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I Just Started My First Year of College

Marie Abowd, a student at Randolph College in Virginia, shares her advice on paying for school through FAFSA and scholarships.

All week long, real Americans who have written the President are sharing where they are in their education journeys — and offering their advice to their fellow Americans. If you want to write the President yourself, you can do so here.

I was a senior at Jefferson Forest High School when I sent my first letter to President Obama.


Jefferson Forest is a small high school in Forest, Virginia — a small town that no one really knows about. My mother is divorced and single. I am the youngest of four; my three older siblings were all in college. My mother has sacrificed everything to put us through college. Working part time jobs, late nights, even moving from California to Virginia for a better job where the standard of living seemed much more affordable.

You see, it has been my dream since I could remember to become an equine veterinarian. My mother wants more than anything to see my dream become a reality, because she wants me to succeed without the struggles that she's experienced; to have a better place in the world than she's ever had.

I realize that wanting to specialize in equine dentistry (yes, dentistry — many people laugh when I say this but I just smile) means I will probably be in college for ten years. I have always wondered, WHY? If critics say America needs more jobs, then why is getting a college education so expensive that starting down many career paths seems impossible?

My mother always tells me "the sky is not the limit, for there is the moon and there are the stars beyond it." So I kept up my grades and relentlessly applied to as many scholarships as I could. The reason I felt compelled to write to President Obama was to say: I want to be one less child, one less financial burden, my mother needs to worry about affording a college education for.

One morning I was talking to a chemistry teacher about my frustrations — the National Decision Deadline was fast approaching, and I had not committed to any of my four choices because I could not afford tuition. She mentioned that Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia was offering a grant called LEAP (Local Educational Access Program) for Region 2000 students from the Commonwealth of Virginia -- where tuition is guaranteed to be no more than $10,000, and that is before financial aid through the FAFSA, which I completed back in January.

(By the way, you can learn how much aid you’re eligible for right now.)

Immediately, I knew this was the answer to my worries. I called the Office of Admissions to ask if they were still accepting applications and the admissions counselor personally worked with me to submit my application as fast as possible. I hand-delivered my transcripts and letters of recommendation the next day to Randolph College. I then sat and watched as my application was reviewed. In less than two minutes I was accepted into Randolph College. Instantly, I felt a giant weight lift off my shoulders. That Saturday, my mother and I attended the open house to tour the campus and assess my financial aid package. We finalized my slot as a freshman in the fall by paying the deposit. Out of nowhere, the President of Randolph College, Mr. Bradley Bateman, appeared to shake my hand, saying he "…wanted to be the first to shake a new Wildcat’s hand in congratulations."

I am so relieved that I know where I belong now. I plan to major in biology as part of the pre-veterinary medicine track and possibly double minor in equine studies and chemistry. Classes started August 31st and I already have a busy schedule. This week I attended my calculus, French, movie science, chemistry lecture and lab, and equine studies classes. I will always be searching and applying for scholarships because I still have to pay for next semester and some of my outside scholarships only cover first semester costs. I also have to worry about paying for the next three years of my education myself. Once I graduate, I will have to start worrying about paying off my unsubsidized and subsidized loans, as well.

This is my advice for students who are looking into college, but think they can't afford it:

Don't just fill out the FAFSA — research local colleges to see if they have any grant programs that can help you cover costs. Call the college to explain your financial situation. Search for scholarships. High schools' guidance offices should have information on many scholarships and there are a plethora of websites where it pools together scholarships that match your criteria. The best way to receive scholarships is to keep up with your academics and be involved in the community; it will benefit you as an individual and as a scholar in the long run.

As my mother always says: "Make good decisions."




Marie Abowd
Forest, Virginia

Marie Abowd is a first-year college student at Randolph College in Virginia. She wrote the President a letter in January.