George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science graduate Essence Gaines had no doubt that she would go to college. It was which university she would attend that was up for debate because there were many factors to consider -- costs, distance, and personal financial ability and freedom.
As part of a college tour hosted by Mighty Writers, a non-profit program that teaches kids to write, Essence visited Community College of Philadelphia, less than 2 miles away from her high school. During the visit, the tour guide showed the group around the College and provided great insights to success, including how to apply to scholarships when applying. Essence, not thinking much of it at the time, applied.
“I was surprised when someone from the College reached out to let me know that, not only had I been accepted into the school, but that I would be offered the 50th Anniversary PROMISE Scholarship, too,” Essence said, as she recounted her initial shock.
The College’s intuitive scholarship application process allows for students to complete a single application which then sorts and filters students’ qualifications and eligibility to match them with over 100 available scholarships. The 50th Anniversary PROMISE Scholarship offers eligible Philadelphia high school graduates a no-cost college tuition as they pursue an associate degree. Continuation of the award is reliant upon scholars maintaining specific academic requirements.
Essence then began to rethink what her college experience would look like. Compared to other options, the College was significantly more cost-efficient and closer to her North Philadelphia home, also making Essence rethink being far away from her parents. She decided to attend a 50th Anniversary PROMISE Scholarship informational meeting, and it was from that point on that she knew she was making the right decision to attend Community College of Philadelphia.
Essence was excited for what she’d learned about the scholarship and what it would offer her during her time at the College. She soon discovered the true benefits and advantages of attending college without the hefty price tag.
“Without stressing about how I’m going to pay for school,” Essence said, “I can focus on other important things like attending helpful workshops. The best part is, I’ve have been able to connect with other people and I can concentrate on school and just life in general.”
The scholarship has provided Essence a “burden-free” mentality and the opportunity to take full advantage of all that the College has to offer toward students’ academic success.
“Worrying about paying for college is stressful,” Essence said. “The added pressure of affording tuition is gone and that helps tremendously when you don’t have a source of income, like me when I started school.”
Essence believes the scholarship program, which requires participation in success support programs, has allowed her to do so much more in terms of furthering her professional experiences. She regularly attends events and workshops which she says have encouraged her to embrace the intergenerational relationships she’s fostered since joining the program. She’s interacted with professors at networking events and increasingly those encounters have influenced her and helped her feel empowered to do more.
“The more I interact, the more I feel a part of the [College] family,” she said. “The staff really care for the students and programs. They check in to make sure we are able to function as students and humans. They have made this scholarship and experience great!”
Essence has been an active member of her community as she consciously looks to give back and find ways to educate others and herself in the process. She devotes time to community service at Olney Elementary, will serve as a host on an upcoming, live-streamed program that promotes youth-based wellness and resiliency organizations, and has volunteered at the Dover Street Library and the 28th annual African American Children’s Book Fair, at its last in-person event, hosted at the College, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using her experiences and education as a Black Studies major, Essence plans to follow the career path to become an educator to Black children. Essence said she’s doing it all for her goal of becoming a teacher and she manifests the idea of building a school or space for youth in her future. Ultimately, she said, “I want to expand my family’s knowledge of the world and Black people’s dominant role in it.”