Before beginning her freshman year in high school, Rousemary Aguilar Estrada made the difficult decision to move from Mexico City to Florida so she could pursue her education in the U.S. While she understood the opportunities this move afforded her, she still struggled. Acculturation was difficult, and she had to make new friends at the same time as she learned a new language.
But Rousemary was determined to succeed, and at North Port High School she worked hard to excel academically while engaging in the school community. She reached out to her teachers and made friends. She enrolled in the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program and took AP courses. She started a UnidosNow club at her school. She found a job.
But during her senior year in high school, Rousemary worried about how she would pursue a business degree in college. Money has always been tight for Rousemary and her family, and the pandemic had exacerbated it. She felt immense pressure. She wanted to attend college but didn’t want to burden her parents.
Rousemary found the support she needed at her Student Success Center at North Port High, where she worked closely with her College Career Advisor, Jenna Thiel. Indeed, during her senior year, she visited the center daily. With Jenna and through her work with UnidosNow, she developed a plan and applied to eight schools, including her dream: the University of Florida. Then she set to work finding ways to pay for her education.
Rousemary completed her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). She completed her Bright Futures. And she set a goal: she would apply to at least one scholarship a week.
Rousemary’s hard work and planning paid off. She was accepted to all eight schools—including her dream. She also learned that she was a STRIVE Award recipient, identified as a student who had overcome immense challenges to succeed. As a STRIVE recipient, she received a check for $1,000 to help fund her education. She would go on to earn eight of the fifteen scholarships for which she applied. She was especially proud to receive the Michael J Archer Memorial Fund Scholarship. These scholarships provided much needed financial support that would make education after high school possible. But they also provided confidence. They signaled the community’s faith in Rousemary—and she is humbled and grateful for the support.
This year, Rousemary started at the Innovation Academy at the University of Florida. The program is designed to “equip students with the 21st-century skills needed to thrive in an innovative culture,” and Rousemary loves it. She is pursuing her business degree with plans to one day create a non-profit that would support students and families like her own. While she wishes she was closer to her family, she enjoys the college ambiance, the challenges, and the freedom.
To make ends meet, Rousemary works 18 – 20 hours at Publix. With the scholarships, financial aid, and Bright Futures, she has been able to afford college without burdening her parents, and again she is busy pursuing new scholarship opportunities.
Her advice to high school students planning to attend college? Apply to a scholarship each week. Join different organizations so that donors and universities see that you’re engaged in the community and want to help people. Find time in high school to have fun too—because college is a lot of work. And remember: “Hard work and determination create the outcomes.”
Looking for a scholarship? Check out the Education Foundation’s scholarship database.