"Education Is Important, and if You Want to Pursue it, You Should Be Able to."

February 2, 2018

By Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern 

For students underrepresented in higher educationevery dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as programs like Federal Work-StudyAmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. 

Giselle Gonzalez has made the most out of college since she enrolled in 2015. At her school, McDaniel College, she's become an active member of the Hispanic Latino Alliance, joined a club that teaches English to non-English speakers around the community, and spent a semester studying abroad in Argentina.

"College has helped me grow as a person," Giselle said. "I learned a lot, not just through studying abroad but being here and being able to pursue what I want to do."

Part of the reason Giselle has been so involved on her campus is because she knows she has an opportunity that many people will never get. She has seen friends be forced to end their pursuit of higher education without a degree because of the rising cost of college tuition. In fact, between 2015 and 2016, 3.9 million Americans dropped out of college and wound up with student loan debt.

"The cost of private colleges is very high, and I've seen a lot of people struggle through it and have to drop out because they aren't able to pay for it," Giselle said. "I feel terrible about that because education is very important and if you want to pursue it you should be able to."

Giselle said one of the reasons she wanted to obtain a degree is because she wants to be able to get a job that ensures she has a secure and happy life in the future. 

"It's really hard to have stability if you haven't gone to college," she said. "If I want to be able to live on my own and not struggle to pay for things, it would be better to further my education." 

But to get that degree, Giselle needed some help from the Maryland-based college access and success program CollegeTracks. The organization worked with her to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and apply for a grant offered in partnership by CollegeTracks and McDaniel College. CollegeTracks helped her prepare for an interview that would determine whether or not she received the scholarship, and she ultimately won it.

"The reason I'm at McDaniel is because of CollegeTracks," Giselle said. "They helped me with the financial aid part of it." 

Even with her federal financial aid and the institutional grant, Giselle works in her school's study abroad office and at a local gymnasium to keep up with the additional costs of college. 

"It's hard to pay for all the books and such," she said. "That's why I am working the two jobs, to try to help my parents out now that my sister's also going to college. For us, it's a little bit of a struggle, but we're making it through."  

Giselle doesn't know precisely what she wants to do after graduating, but she hopes to give back to her community so that other people with similar backgrounds can enjoy the educational opportunities she's had. 

"I feel like I have had the opportunities that so many Latinos did not," she said. "I went to a great public school and received a great education, but I know in some counties around Maryland they don't receive as good of an education. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do, but one of my main goals is to help out in the Latino community." 

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