After Ashlee’s high school graduation, her classmates got ready for college but she started looking for jobs. “I didn't think I was smart enough,” she says.
She also lacked a blueprint to guide her: Her parents never went to college. “My mother has had a job since [she was] 14. She didn’t make much and we sometimes had an empty fridge.”
After two years of waiting tables for low pay, Ashlee reconsidered her future. “I didn’t want to have a predictable life and not contribute anything,” she says. “Once the recession hit and I saw that my life wasn’t growing, I decided to give college a chance.”
Ashlee describes the application and financial aid process as “mind-boggling” and “stressful” — especially since she had to figure out most of it on her own.
She enrolled in a community college and got some help from the financial aid office there. They helped her apply for a federal grant, but she didn't receive enough to cover the full cost of tuition, so she applied for loans. The process took months, but Ashlee stuck with it.
Ashlee’s college experience began with placement tests; from these she learned that she needed to refresh her skills in order to succeed in college. So along with core college-level classes, she took learning support classes in reading and math.
She also found a passion for art, which she describes as “free of boundaries. It’s the purest gift. Once you get a utensil in your hand, the paper becomes your universe.” Ashlee plans to transfer to a four-year college, where she can major in fine art and explore related fields like graphic design, fashion design and illustration.
She's happy to be back in school developing her interests and expanding her horizons. She says she’s learning a lot from being around other students with different backgrounds. “It’s the school of life.”
Ashlee feels she’s grown since high school, when she thought she wasn’t “college material.” She no longer thinks you can define what makes a good college student. “All I can do is be the best person I can be.”