Graduate without debt, scholarship recipient tells Travis students

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By Adriana Ruiz 

Incoming high school students across the U.S. planning to enroll as college freshman in fall 2014 can apply for the Gates Millennium scholarship through Jan. 15.

During a workshop Oct. 17, Travis Early College High School students met scholarship recipient Katherine Sickle who shared application tips. “College is expensive and it’s only getting more expensive,” Sickle said.

According to College Board, the average cost per semester for a public; four-year state college is $8,655, public, four-year out-of-state college is $21,706; and private, four-year college is $29,056.

Sickle shared advice on how to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, a good-through-graduation scholarship awarded to 1,000 students across the nation each year to use at the college or university of their choice.

Sickle, who has served on a scholarship committee, said committee members look for leadership in a scholarship application. Volunteering, being a mentor and extracurricular activities are a good way to show leadership, she said.

For essays, Sickle said, “It’s so important to put yourself in those essays. Tell your story; everybody has a story.” Sickle’s story includes the University of Texas at San Antonio where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s degree in education with an instructional technology specialization. She is an elementary school teacher.

Students asked what to do when a parent is unwilling or unable to help with scholarship applications. She said to find anyone willing to help and referred students to Café College, 131 El Paso St., where students can get free advice, guidance and workshops in English and Spanish. Sickle held back tears as she shared her solo struggle but thanked her aunt who served as her mentor.

The goal for the workshop was to help students who may have fears about paying for college, said Sylvia De Leon, public administration professor and coordinator of the scholarship workshop. De Leon said she invited Sickle because she wanted to “make sure students heard a story of someone who has finished school without any debt.”

Today, there are about 37 million borrowers with debt, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. From the 37 million Americans with outstanding debt, almost 40 percent are younger than 30.

About 66 percent of the class of 2011 had an average debt of $26,600, the Project on Student Debt reported.

Students who default can face serious consequences. Collection fees could be added to the overall balance, they could lose financial aid eligibility, 15 percent of students’ paychecks can be deducted, state and federal tax refunds could be lost, and students lose eligibility for deferment and forbearance plans.

De Leon said she worries about young people getting into debt and wants to educate students on applying for scholarships. “I want them to first try scholarships and grants, then loans as a last resort.”

Anastasia Santos, a junior at Travis Early College High School who is enrolled in a dual credit human resource management class at this college, said she hopes to go to law school on the Gates Millennium Scholarship. “I found it very helpful and definitely something I’m going to look into,” she said.

For more on the Gates Millennium Scholarship, visit: For more information on Café College, visit:


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