Think back to your high school days. Do you remember that one student who snoozed through lectures and consistently failed to turn in homework assignments? It’s pretty safe to assume someone with such a lack of ambition is clearly not college bound, right?
Not necessarily, says Lucy Alejos, who often worked with such students in the classroom back when she was student teaching. What instructors and fellow classmates don’t understand is that appearances can be deceiving.
“When I got into student teaching, I gained a better understanding of students’ lives,” says Alejos, who earned a BA in English from UT Austin in 2013. “When I met with the student, I found that she worked a full-time job, lived with friends and had no contact with her parents. I remember the teacher said, ‘College just isn’t her thing,’ but I have a new perspective that there’s more that plays into what you see in the classroom.”
With no parents or teachers pushing them to reach their potential, many of these students prove their naysayers right by not going to college or dropping out of school altogether. After seeing this need for support, Alejos decided to join Advise TX, a statewide program within the College Advising Corps. Advise TX hires new college graduates to help underserved high school students tackle the college application process and find a school that suits their needs.
Alejos works for the University of Texas at Austin chapter of Advise TX, which is now housed within the DDCE. As a guidance counselor, accountant and project manager folded into one, she works hard. But it’s well worth the effort when she sees her students’ eyes light up when they get that bulky envelope from their dream school, or when that critical scholarship comes through.
“I’m so happy when students realize they can go to school, or when they earn that scholarship,” Alejos says, smiling. “This is a very gratifying work and I’m so grateful to have this experience.”
The majority of Alejos’ high school seniors are from low-income households. Those who do successfully get into college still have to face another daunting challenge: paying tuition. Of course, there are federal grants and scholarships, but the process of securing those funds can be overwhelming to say the least.
Alejos remembers that process all too well. As a low-income high school student, she sought out every avenue for financial aid all on her own. Without Internet access at home, she used the public library to scour the Web for every possible resource. As someone who experienced this painstaking task first-hand, she knows how important it is for students to have someone guiding them along the way.
Not only does she help students find a way to pay for college, she also stands in their corner and shows them that not all hope is lost when the rejection letters come.
“I try to help them find a way no matter what,” Alejos says. “If they want to get into a particular college—even if they don’t have the grades to get in—I will never tell them no, but I will show them the steps they need to take to get there, and I will show them some better options. It’s all about finding the best fit for the students.”
Now as Alejos closes in on the second year of the two-year program, her future is wide open. When asked what’s next, she recalls some wise words that helped put the imposing big picture into perspective.