I was once asked how I became a Brand Ambassador for Bay College. Most people might think that a hand-picked Ambassador would’ve been the perfect student, always doing the “right” thing in regards to their future.
The truth is that when I was in high school I could not wait to graduate and get out of town. Although I was a decent student, member of National Honor Society and an athlete, I had no clue what school I wanted to attend. All that mattered to me was leaving Hermansville.
I enrolled for classes with Devry University, packed my tiny car and drove to Texas. I knew a couple of people there and we had a nice little condo together. Originally, I was enrolled for an associate’s degree in criminal justice. At the time I didn’t understand the difference between an associates, bachelors, or master’s degree. I struggled to figure out FAFSA on my own and I had no knowledge about loans or interest.
I managed to work through setting up my loans, but shortly after I started school full-time, I also needed to work three part-time jobs. I found myself struggling with a basic math class and had nowhere to turn. Within a couple of months I dropped out of school.
In 2015 I found out I was pregnant, and this meant some serious lifestyle changes. I knew that it was no longer possible to work in the construction industry, eliminating a large chunk of my income. I also knew that I did not want to be bartending while nine months pregnant nor while raising a newborn.
I spent nearly five years in the restaurant industry, in addition to working construction. Without an actual degree I found it hard to get a job I was interested in, so I settled for positions where I could earn about minimum wage. Meanwhile, since I did not understand my school loans, I was considered a “drop out” because I didn’t pay any money back.
I ended up taking out a loan to attend a CNA certification course. It was there that I found a passion for learning that I had never known I had. This $800 investment was a real turning point for me and I quickly decided I wanted to get signed up for classes through Bay College.
I knew that I was stuck in the area since I was expecting a baby, but felt comfort in having family close by. I learned how much cheaper a community college was in comparison to a university. I also learned that my loans were in default and if I wanted help going to school I needed to rehabilitate them. Upon speaking with the Department of Education I managed to set up a payment plan for five dollars every month. After six months of never missing a payment I renewed my eligibility for financial aid.
My first semester back was in the pre-nursing program and it started about four days into learning how to be a mom at home with a newborn. I took on way too many classes and ended up dropping one.
I was disappointed in myself, but I kept going. After talking to my wonderful advisor, I found out that there were degree programs that I could complete almost entirely online. However, I decided to take a math class on campus because I had always struggled with that subject.
As my journey progressed my GPA climbed and I learned about several scholarships offered through Bay. I decided to apply and was awarded two scholarships the first time I applied. I was shocked, so I started doing some digging. To my surprise Bay had a pool of scholarships and when I printed them off I had a list of at least twenty pages. I was totally amazed at how many there were and how easy it was to apply for all of them at the same time.
This is where I met the incredible staff that impacted my life more than they probably know. I got a free tutor and I utilized my kind and intelligent SI Leader as resources. I often came in an hour before class and my SI Leader would help me work through problems and answer my questions. I finished that math class with an A, which felt amazing. In high school this never happened.
At the start of my final year of school I learned about an Ambassador position that would award one West Campus student a scholarship in exchange for some of their time. I thought, “hey, I should try that.” I was shocked to learn that I was selected.
I have had the pleasure of working with some campus staff members and I quickly learned how passionate these men and women are about their jobs. Their drive to encourage people in an educational setting is outstanding and has rubbed off on me. I’ve also gained experience in public speaking, recruiting, public relations, networking, and full involvement with major events to help grow our college and community.
I am forever grateful for the people and opportunities that found me here at Bay College and I strongly encourage anyone looking to get back into school or start school to give their community college a try.
As the current Ambassador I have one giant piece of advice: understand what resources are available to you and use them! Take that College 101 class and get a good understanding of how to file for Pell Grants. Understand the differences between payment options and how interest rates affect your total debt. Take advantage of any opportunities for job shadowing or internships.
Most importantly, stop telling yourself all of the reasons that you cannot go to and complete college or need to quit. Figure out real solutions so you can achieve your goals. Making smart investments in life determines your overall success, so don’t shortchange yourself by never making room to invest in yourself and your future.