RaiseMe’s How I Made it to College series continues with the story of Kollette, a student from San Antonio. Her story reveals how pursuing a path to college can instill hope back into the lives of students, and entire families, of challenging backgrounds. In Kollette’s own words, a college education “means I have a better chance to live differently than my parents, who live paycheck by paycheck and never have time to sit and rest because they work all day every day. Me going to college is also important because it shows my younger siblings, as well as cousins, that they too can attend college. As long as they work hard for what they want, they can achieve their dreams.”
From child services to family reunification, this is my story of How I Made it to College.
My name is Kollette. I’m 19. My birthday is actually April Fool’s Day, so I think that is pretty cool! It’s easy to remember! I like to go dancing a lot and I love country music. I hope to in the future if I get better, maybe compete [in dancing]. It’s two-step, one step, with a lot of tricks. I really enjoy it.
I go to the University of Texas at Austin. Right now I am a sophomore, but once my credits go through [from high school] I should be a junior by the end of the semester! So that’s pretty exciting. I am a social work major right now, but I am thinking of double majoring in social work and government, and minoring in communication studies. I will be graduating in 2021. I took a couple of summer courses earlier because I was ready to go!
I am also moving into my first apartment. I have roommates but it will be my first time living alone. It’s my own place. No one can tell me what to do and I am pretty excited about it!
I am a minority. I grew up low income on the South Side of San Antonio. When I was growing up, it wasn’t a normal family where you live in your house with your mom, dad, brother, and sister. I grew up with my family in one house and we were always bunched up.
My dad has always been in and out of my life, and always in jail. When I was five, he got in a really bad accident because he was drinking and driving. My mom found someone else when I was in 4th grade – my stepdad. That’s when we kind of started getting on track, had our first apartment and then moved into our first house. Life was really good. We were living the regular family life where you have your own room and all this nice stuff. But then my parents (mom and stepdad) started having problems and they split up. My stepdad left and it was just me, my mom, and my two brothers. When that happened, my mom turned to drugs. She started going out all the time and she was doing a lot of stuff that wasn’t all right. I became a teenager and started giving her attitude. As she became badly addicted to drugs, she wouldn’t put up with me, and after a while she mentally and physically abused me. I was the older one and she wanted me to listen to her and wanted me to take care of my brothers.
No one really knew what was going on at home with my family. But when my grandma started living with us when I was in the 8th grade, she started noticing everything. When she noticed she called CPS (Child Protective Services), and I remember the outcome so vividly. It was the last day of my 8th grade year and it was a big day because we were supposed to be graduating middle school. But they called me out of class and said there was someone in the main office waiting to talk to me. It was a CPS worker who had received a complaint that my mom was abusing me and on drugs. They said they couldn’t have me and my brothers living in the household.
One of my brother’s grandma offered to take us in. I didn’t want to go because I’d never had a good past with my brother’s grandparents, but I obviously couldn’t say no because it was going to happen anyways. I only lived with them for the summer because we didn’t get along very well and they told CPS that they didn’t want me in their house, so I had to find a new place to go.
My other brother and I moved in with my godparents my freshman year through half of my sophomore year of high school. But they ended up telling CPS that they didn’t want us either because my mom wasn’t giving them money. They warned my mom that if she wouldn’t pay them they’d give us up to be put in the foster system. When my mom heard that she took it seriously, and actually started getting better and going to classes. By my sophomore year she was able to take us back. Things started to get better.
Family reunification and new beginnings for Kollette.
When my mom took us back, she was barely back on her feet. My brother, my mom and I had to live in a shelter for two or three months. She didn’t want to move us away from our school, because she thought it would be worse on our mental health. So when we were living in the shelter, she signed my brother and I up for a program in San Antonio where the schools pick you up wherever you’re at on a bus. It’s really useful and super cool. I think it was really helpful, but what sucked was I had to wake up at 4 in the morning to be in school by 8am. I did that the rest of my sophomore year until the end of my junior year when my mom finally found a house for us. We found it right next to our school, so that’s when everything got better.
How school brought hope for Kollette.
School has always been important to me. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. But in middle school, when I was going through everything, I didn’t feel very connected to my academics. I wasn’t paying attention. I was really just trying to get through the worst time. In high school, when things started settling down, I started re-focusing on school. When I was a freshman, I heard that you need to be on top of things to graduate top 10%, but to be honest I had no idea if I was even going to go to college. I didn’t even know what the top 10% was, but I just knew it was a big deal. Everyone was just talking about college, so I thought I should do it too. It was just never a for sure thing in my head. I was kind of just doing stuff just to do them. When I was a junior it got more real and I knew what everything was for, so I started doing more.
During my freshman year, I didn’t do any clubs because my godmother didn’t like me to doing anything. She wanted me to be home and I was like her maid. When I was applying to college later on in high school, it was hard to explain why I didn’t have any extracurriculars my freshman year. But by my sophomore year, when things were getting better with my mom, I thankfully started doing more stuff because my mom founds ride to pick me up after school. After that I started doing everything. All the clubs! I excelled well in everything extracurricular!
Another part of it was that I started reflecting on everything that had happened once things started getting better in high school. I thought of my mom and everything that she went through because she didn’t go to college. That’s really when I truly got more serious. My mom isn’t in a bad position now, but I never want to be in the position that she had been in. I don’t want to end up like my parents. My mom even knows that I say this, and she agrees. So that really pushed me toward college.
I knew I didn’t want to have the life that my parents had and that I was also a role model for my brothers. I am also the oldest of all my cousins, there are 12 of us, and so I knew that I was a role model to more than just my brothers. No one in my family, at all, had ever been to college, let alone graduate high school. When I started realizing that, I knew I was really a role model and going to college was something that I had to do not only for myself but for my family.
Programs gave perspective on her college journey.
In high school, my best friend told me about scholarships and opportunities that would help me. The first thing I applied to showed me that awesome ‘wow’ feeling of getting accepted to things. It was a program at the University of Texas call Subiendo, for rising leaders, and I went after my junior year. The program really helped shape me and showed me that I really wanted to go to UT. There were so many smart kids there and they showed my best friend and I a Google Doc with scholarship opportunities. The program gave me a boost of confidence to keep applying to things.
My school was also really helpful in [the college process]. They always had scholarships up even when we were juniors and would tell us all about them. When I was a junior, my school pulled everyone from our English classes and gave us walk through of the college application process. I picked up on it and was able to do it on my own. My senior year I got a computer which allowed me to apply to a lot more things, because I didn’t have to go early or stay after school anymore to apply. I applied to every school that I could!
I knew for sure that UT was an option because of Subiendo. But I decided to apply to every school, community college, and more to have back ups if I didn’t have enough money. And at first I didn’t get enough money from UT.
I had previously joined a program called Project Stay that helped me with the college application process, apply for scholarships, and the FAFSA as well. They told me that Texas A&M was probably the best option for me since I was getting the most money from UT — they basically offered me a full ride scholarship. But I knew I really wanted to go to UT. I had fallen in love with it at Subiendo. So I decided to look into other scholarships and ended up getting enough money to go to UT! It wasn’t too far from home, it’s in the city and I am a city person.
I heard about RaiseMe on a school trip to UT in high school. Right then and there after the speaker left, me and my class all signed up to the app to refer each other.
RaiseMe Pro Tip: The college process can be confusing, especially with regards to financing college, and especially as a first-generation student. Kollette did a phenomenal job taking a proactive approach in getting the unknowns of the college application answered by experts in the programs she joined, applying to relevant scholarships, and doing diligent personal research.
How Kollette’s mom helped her college experience.
The summer before my senior year, I was talking to my parents about college and I told my mom about the money. I said I would find enough scholarship money so that she wouldn’t have to pay for anything. When that happened, my mom was impressed that I did that on my own. My mom saw that I was able to do other things on my own. Now she works extra hours to give me money when I need it. I really appreciate that.
My mom has never been to college so everything about it was really new to her. I still have to explain things to her. I remember when I first started college, she would call me everyday making sure I was ready for class. I think my mom was really helpful because she would check in with me all the time.
My mom and my stepdad got back together two years ago and are strong now. My relationship with my mom has also grown a lot. I don’t regret anything that’s happened because it’s helped me grow as a person. My mom and I are really comfortable with each other. She’s my best friend and I tell her everything. She has so much trust in me. She is healthy now, is a manager at McDonald’s, and is doing really well.
Kollette’s future at UT and beyond.
I wanted to be a teacher at first, but then later I thought I don’t know if I want to deal with kids. I then thought about being a counselor, because when I was going through the process with CPS I had three different counselors who all had a really big impact on me, both good and bad. One of my counselors actually gave me a whole set of Jane Austen books which I still have now. I asked them what degree they needed in college to be them in the future. This is how I started thinking about psychology.
When I went to Subiendo, they gave us networking opportunities to meet people in other fields. I met a woman who majored in social work, and told her I was interested in psychology. But she pressed me on why and what my interests were. After I talked to her, she said I’d fit well with social work. She said it was really fulfilling and has a wide field of opportunities. With psychology it’s more limiting, but with social work it was more open. After that, I decided on social work as my major. I even found out that UT is number one in the country for their bachelor’s degree in social work. After attending a job fair, I learned about policy work as well! So now I want to double major in government.
Going through what I did, I know that I don’t want people to go through the system (CPS) and have to deal with bad people. If I do end up being a social worker, I want to be someone who actually helps, like with family reconciliation.
Kollette is currently attending the University of Texas, Austin where she earned nearly $1,500 in micro-scholarships on RaiseMe. Kollette’s favorite micro-scholarship was earned by visiting a college campus — UT. Sign up or sign in now to see what you could be earning for campus visits, your grades, extracurriculars, and more.