Adviser Perspective: First Generation Success by Sarah Estes

It was an ordinary Monday when I had a student come leaping into my office. She said “Ms. Estes, Ms. Estes, I have been waiting to show you this since Friday!” In her hands she was holding an acceptance letter to her dream college. And yes, I will get excited and do my signature happy dance for all of my students, but this moment has been one of my favorite moments of being an Adviser so far.

To give some insight as to what made this moment so special, I have to tell you about my own high school experience. When I was a junior in high school, the talk about college and where everyone was planning to go really started. I had friends mentioning colleges such as Duke, NC State, Appalachian, and more. And then there was me. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to go to college, almost more than anything; but I am a first-generation college student, so I had no idea where to start. I also faced a lot of financial hardship growing up. I came from a single-parent household, and I watched as my mother worked as hard as she could to make ends meet. And I felt as though I couldn’t put another financial burden on her by asking about how we were going to pay for college. So in my mind I was stuck with no way forward.

It wasn’t until my senior year when I spoke to a representative from my local community college that I realized the goals that I had dreamt about could actually become a reality. She sat down and told me all about FAFSA, how to apply for it, and even explained how the community college had different types of scholarships and grants that I could apply for in order to get some help. I ended up applying for the Hugh and Martha Wilson Family scholarship and was chosen to receive it, which resulted in $1,000 of worry gone! Simply because she took the time to sit down and explain all the things I had heard my classmates speak about. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel when it came to my postsecondary education.

From there, I was able to enroll at my local community college without paying anything out of pocket due to grants and scholarships. I was finally living my dream of going to college! It was there that I realized my passion for higher education and helping others achieve their goals of going to college. After graduating Caldwell Community College, I knew that I wanted to keep going and get my 4-year degree so, I transferred to Appalachian State and obtained my Bachelor's degree in Social Work in December of 2020.

Now I'm continuing to live my dreams, and I am working as the first College Advising Corps adviser in Watauga High School! I had a student come into my office with the same look I had all those years ago who told me that she is a first-generation college student, and she has financial barriers to her access to higher education. She spoke about her dreams of becoming a vet and how she wanted it more than anything, but she just couldn’t see how to make it a reality. I was able to sit down and show her the same things that were shown to me all those years ago. We discussed what the FAFSA form was and how it could benefit her and her family. We spoke about the different financial aid opportunities such as scholarships, grants, work study, and loans. Finally, I showed her how to search for scholarships using the bigger databases such as CFNC.

That was the same student who came into my office jumping for joy with her acceptance letter. To know that I was able to help a student who was feeling similar to how I was all those years ago is an experience that I will never forget.

Another amazing experience I have had as an Adviser so far is getting to work with the other College Access Partnership programs such as Upward Bound. These programs have similar missions and goals as the College Advising Corp such as supporting college access. The student who I worked with also participates in Upward Bound, and we are both very thankful for their work and support.

Looking forward to next semester, I am in the process of planning different events that will help my students here at Watauga. Some examples include a community college fair, 4-year university virtual visits, and a first-generation celebration for all of our first-generation college students! I am super excited about these events and supporting my students in any way possible. And it just goes to show that days that might feel ordinary are actually extraordinary when I get to work with and support such amazing students.

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Adviser Perspective Written by Watauga High School Adviser Sarah Estes

Published: Dec 16, 2021 10:18am

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