Many high school seniors have no clue what they need to do to prepare for college or what to expect when they get there. That’s why Donna High School has a program to help students with the transition.
“A Day in the Life of a College Student” has been in place for the last 20 years. The way it works is that school administrators invite college freshmen who graduated from DHS the previous year to come talk to graduating seniors. School administrators brought in a group of 11 graduates from the DHS Class of 2016 who represented several universities including The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Texas State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
UT Austin student Ariana Olvera was on the panel. “I think it’s an excellent idea,” Olvera said of the program. “When you’re in high school you don’t really worry about what’s going to happen later on once you go to college. You hear it’s hard but you don’t actually know how hard it is until you have someone who’s going through it tell you it’s hard. More than anything, this program can serve as a wake-up call for high school seniors to start thinking about their future and start thinking about what it is they need to do to get where they want to be.”
Olvera stressed the importance of applying for scholarships as early as possible. “My advice to seniors is to apply for as many as you can,” Olvera said. “I know everybody stresses that but honestly that is so important. The chances of you getting one is moderately low but the more you apply to, the higher the chances you’ll at least get one.”
Olvera who applied for several scholarships, said the process was tedious and long but well worth it. She was pleasantly surprised to learn she was awarded five including the prestigious Gates Millennium Last Dollar Scholarship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarship is intended to fill the gap between the students’ financial aid and the real costs of college, such as computers, books and supplies, room and board and even graduation expenses.
“I didn’t apply thinking I was going to get it,” Olvera recalled. “I applied hoping I was going to get it so when I got the envelope I was extremely happy. My mom showed up at school one day to tell me I got an envelope and I said ‘what do you mean?’ She said ‘open it, open it.’ It said ‘congratulations welcome to the Gates family.’ My mom teared up and then I started to tear up. It was a really nice moment.”
Olvera said the timing couldn’t have been more perfect because her mother was already preparing to get a second job to help with her college expenses. “It definitely lifts a huge burden off your shoulders and your parents’ shoulders because it’s one factor you don’t have to worry about,” Olvera said. “Everything in college is so expensive. You have to pay for everything so if you have money coming in from somewhere else, it’s a huge help.”
Olvera offered other advice. “You can’t go into college with a high school mindset,” she said. “That’s something that was repeated a lot but because it’s so true. The way you approach studying, going to class, doing homework and taking exams, everything is different. It’s harder and there’s higher expectations.”
She said seeking resources when needed is important. “There’s something for anything,” she said. “If you need help with an essay there’s the Writing Center. If you don’t know how to do research you can go to the library. There’s so much help you just need to ask.”