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Harnessing my first-generation, low-income status as motivation

I come from a family with six older siblings in a two-parent household. Three out of those six siblings decided to further their education at Wake Technical Community College while the others did not choose to further their education after high school. My parents did not further their education after high school and, in fact, my mother did not even finish high school at all. For the past 31 years, my mother has worked as a waitress, and for the last eight years, my father has been on disability as he suffers from Meniere’s disease. With the income my parents earn, we are considered a low-income household.

Most people in my situation would find this status to be an obstacle, but I’m motivated to further my education so that I can have a better life and give back to my parents and community. When I was a freshman in high school, I was introduced to this wonderful librarian at the Olivia Raney Library named Mrs. Judy Allen Dodson. I began volunteering with her because I needed volunteer hours for a club at Enloe High School.

I volunteered so much and we grew so close that she became my mentor. She graduated from a four-year college and so did her children. She has been my saving grace in getting me started with all of the college-related tasks. She immediately had me write down the schools I was interested in along with what I wanted to major in. I then registered for the SAT and started preparing for the test that would determine my future.

The first time I took the SAT, I completely bombed it. I was so disappointed that I felt like a deflated balloon. I immediately thought it was over and felt like there was no way I was going to better my score enough to apply for college. I finally talked to my mentor and we decided to use all the resources we could find. Every day during lunch, I went to my teacher, Mr. Barilich, for help with the English and writing portion of the SAT. Every Monday, I went to tutoring at Raleigh Tutoring Center for the math portion.

I was so nervous when it came time for me to retake the test because I didn’t want to score low. Weeks later, when I received my scores, I had boosted my score by 40 points in both the English and math sections of the test. I had faced another challenge and came out on top. I was proud of myself because I knew at that point I was really going to be competitive in the college application process.

The application process is an extremely daunting process, especially because I had no experience with it and neither did anyone in my family. I worked alone and applied to eight schools in North Carolina. I sat at my desk for two hours straight, slowly going through each application, until I fully completed each one.

Randi’s acceptance letters.

Another huge obstacle was trying to figure out how I was going to afford to attend a four-year institution, which leads me to the financial aid application. Fortunately, I had assistance with this process from my schools’ financial aid advisor. I realized that I had many resources available to me but failed to ask about them until I started doing some research on my own and asked some necessary questions.

I received my first denial letter from East Carolina University because my SAT score was not as high as they wanted it to be. I wasn’t sad though; I was honored to even have the opportunity to put myself in the position to receive letters from schools.

Following that denial letter, I received three acceptance letters to Winston Salem State University, North Carolina Central University, and Guilford College with a $31,000 scholarship.

This entire college application process has been exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. I have felt an outpouring of support that I would have never been introduced to had I not gone through this experience. I have found the strength that I didn’t realize because of the ups and downs of the entire process. I am determined, more than ever before, to attend a four-year college and give back to everyone who has helped me. I thank everyone who encouraged and supported me to be the best Randi Teylar Jenkins I can be.

Randi Jenkins

Randi Jenkins is a student at Enloe High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. She expects to graduate in 2019.