"It's Free Money That They're Giving You"

March 29, 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. 

Jocelyn Salinas wanted to go to college because her parents never had the same opportunity. They moved to Maryland from El Salvador when they were young and had to get jobs right away to support themselves and their family members back home. 

"They have motivated me to go to college because I know that they had to sacrifice their education to come here," Jocelyn said.

But while Jocelyn was always clear on her goal of obtaining a higher education, she wasn't sure how she would be able to pay for one. 

"At first I didn’t think [college] was [possible] because I'm the first in my family to go," Jocelyn said. "I didn't really see it happening and I didn't think we would be financially capable of paying for it."

Then Jocelyn found the Maryland-based college access and success program CollegeTracks, which helped her apply for federal student aid, find private scholarships, and prepare her resume. 

"Once I saw there was a way for me to go, there was no way I was going to let go of this opportunity," she said. 

Jocelyn is now a junior at Trinity Washington University, and she says financial aid made a huge impact on her decision to attend. Trinity offered her a scholarship that covered a big portion of tuition costs. She also receives a Pell Grant, subsidized loans, and Federal Work-Study funding, for which she works as an office coordinator for the Dean of Student Affairs.

Jocelyn is appreciative of the federal financial aid she receives – especially the grant – because she knows that students who aren't legal residents of the U.S. don't qualify for it.

"It’s free money that they're giving you,” she said, “and I'm thankful for that opportunity because I know there are Dreamers who don't have that.”

Jocelyn chose Trinity because she liked that with just more than 2,000 students, it's small enough that she can develop relationships with her professors. She was also drawn there because it is an all-women's college.

"It's an amazing opportunity to learn and interact with just women in today's society where we have so many issues with women suffering," Jocelyn said. "Here they teach you how to go about that and how to empower women." 

And CollegeTracks is still an important part of Jocelyn's academic life.

"To this very day they are still checking up on me, helping me with my studying strategies, helping me organize and just helping me succeed in this process, as I am a first generation-college student," she said.

While financial aid has alleviated much of the stress of paying for college, additional unforeseen costs put Jocelyn at a disadvantage during her freshman year. Jocelyn commutes to school, so when she got in a car accident and couldn't drive for a month until she saved up the money for repairs, she missed a lot of class and fell behind academically. 

With hard work and support from CollegeTracks, Jocelyn got her grades up and is still on track to graduate next year with a degree in human relations and a minor in business. After she graduates, Jocelyn wants to continue her higher education by getting a master's degree in psychology and eventually become a counselor or professor.  


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