Meet Alex

I’ve never met anybody who’s judged me.

Grades

“I’ve never met anybody who’s judged me.”

When I was a junior, I was expelled.

Grades

“When I was a junior, I was expelled.”

I didn't know what I wanted to do.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I didn't know what I wanted to do.”

I don’t really put myself out there a lot.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I don’t really put myself out there a lot.”

I’m proud to say that I’m doing very well.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I’m very proud to say that I’m doing very well.”

I went to school for practically nothing.

Cost

“I went to school for practically nothing.”

Money is out there to help you—just look.

Cost

“Money is out there to help you—just look.”

It was stressful but rewarding in the end.

Cost

“It was stressful but rewarding in the end.”

I wanted to be a teacher.

Cost

“I wanted to be a teacher.”

I just assumed I wasn’t going to go.

Cost

“I just assumed I wasn’t going to go.”

It hits you at once.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“It hits you at once.”

I wasn’t sure what to do.

Cost

“I wasn’t sure what to do.”

Everything was in fine print.

Cost

“Everything was in fine print.”

I was a quiet freshman but now I'm outgoing.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I was a quiet freshman but now I'm outgoing.”

I had to deal with a lot all at once.

Responsibilities

“I had to deal with a lot all at once.”

I stayed close to home so my parents could visit.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I stayed close to home so my parents could visit.”

It pretty much gave me a full ride.

Cost

“It pretty much gave me a full ride.”

People are willing to help if you ask them.

Cost

“People are willing to help if you ask them.”

I was intimidated since I was undocumented.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I was intimidated since I was undocumented.”

My father did not want to help me.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“My father did not want to help me.”

I have a good chance of becoming more stable.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“I have a good chance of becoming more stable.”

Leaving the reservation is a huge step.

Feeling Overwhelmed

“Leaving the reservation is a huge step.”

Meet Alex

 

I relied on my high school counselor.
The first in his family to go to a U.S. college, Alex used school resources to figure things out.
People are willing to help if you ask them. (01:10)
Alex found funds for students from low-income families.
People are willing to help if you ask them.
Now Playing
I relied on my high school counselor. (00:40)
The first in his family to go to a U.S. college, Alex used school resources to figure things out.
I relied on my high school counselor.
Now Playing

Snapshot

Year in college
Senior
Majors
Accounting and finance
Family income
$20,000–$40,000
College
Public four-year university
Published yearly in-state tuition and fees
$8,690
Financial aid received
State academic scholarship, Federal Pell Grant, subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, work-study job
Favorite TV show
Mad Money with Jim Cramer
Favorite movie
Any comedy with Adam Sandler
Dream job
CEO of a Fortune 500 company
Alex is the first person in his family to go to college in the United States — and he had to find a way to pay for it himself.
His obstacle 

Alex’s family moved to the United States when he was very young. “My parents came here for me and my brother because opportunities weren't as attractive in Uzbekistan,” he says. “It's always been on my mind to not let them down.”

Although his parents wanted him to go to college, they couldn’t afford to help him pay for it. “I would visit college websites and see how much tuition and dorms were, and it seemed sort of impossible,” Alex remembers. Some colleges had published prices that were as much as his family earned in a year.

How he overcame it 

In high school, Alex used his lunch breaks to research financial aid at his school’s counseling office. What he found surprised him.

“There are a lot of different [scholarships] based on heritage, culture, religion ... for things you would never imagine.” Alex found scholarships for students like him from low-income families.

Some scholarship applications require an essay. “That's what deters kids a lot of times — the essay,” Alex says. “But most are 500 words and under. If you're paid anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for an essay, I think that’s very easy work for that amount of money.”

For Alex, money was definitely a factor when it was time to pick a school. “Basically, my decision came down to the financial aid package I was offered and the cost of in-state versus out-of-state tuition.” Alex decided to take advantage of lower tuition at a public university in his home state.

Life at college 

A double major in finance and accounting, Alex has been developing his interests through college clubs, study abroad and an internship. As a member of the student Portfolio Management Team, Alex gets to practice making investment decisions with real money. And thanks to a scholarship-winning essay he wrote, he’ll be spending the summer studying in Greece.

Alex also spent three months in a paid internship at a major media company. He worked in the property tax department for large clients. “There is nothing that can compare to a hands-on experience,” he says. “In a textbook, the material is the same once you learn it and memorize it. However, in [my internship], new situations arose all the time ... I learned and learned daily.”

Crafting a great personal essay

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Brainstorm

What are your best qualities? Loyalty? Creativity? Come up with five.

Find Your Story

Think about something you did that really shows off one of those qualities. That’s your story.

Get It On Paper

Good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Set up a solid structure and fill it with colorful details that bring your story to life.

Edit

Correct any spelling or grammar mistakes and make sure your main idea comes across clearly.

Set It Aside, Edit Again

You’ll be surprised at how much more you catch after a break of a day or two.

Share It

Get feedback from someone you trust and respect.

Discover more essay-writing tips.

If you're like Alex

Take a next step

Get started with these ideas.