College VS The School of Hard Knocks

December 03, 2020

Came across this article on the top colleges in the world and it reminded me of my own tragic AF college story.

When I was a JR/SR in high school, I told my school counselor I wanted to apply for the local university’s gifted program. She discouraged me, saying something to the effect of “you have to be reallllly, realllly smart to take college courses while still in high school, honey.” She refused to sign off on it, even though I had a 4.5, (yes... 4.5 because advanced placement English was worth 5.0 credits). I can still see her face of utter shock and horror that this Lil’ Black girl would have the AUDACITY to aim so high. I left her office in near tears. But I still applied. I had to take some crazy insane test which I passed and at age 16/17 was taking classes at the University of Hawaii via some special gifted program.

I think we’ve established that I had the absolute worst school counselor. My father was out of the picture, and though my mom was very sweet, she gave me no guidance on how college worked as she was busy navigating her own life.

I didn’t know I actually had to APPLY to go to college. Being that I was always a straight-A student, I thought they would just come get me 🤦🏾‍♀️...

At the very last minute, I randomly applied to a few schools knowing absolutely nothing about them other than the fact that I read somewhere that they were top-notch.

I was accepted into Stanford. When I looked at the tuition, I just cried and threw the letter away. Did I know about financial aid? Nope. Scholarships? Nope. Did anyone tell me? Nope.

Fast forward a few years later, and getting fresh out of homelessness in Los Angeles, CA. I applied for the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), as it was always my dream to become a Fashion Designer. I met with an admissions counselor, he gave me a tour of the campus and I fell in love. In his office I started the application process, there was an application fee just to apply. I believe $1000 or so, hell, it could’ve been $100. Either way, I was living in transitional housing in a program with The Salvation Army. I didn’t have it. Then he showed me the tuition and my heart just sank.

I went home. Cried again and tried to figure out my next move that would shape the rest of my life. A week later I get a call from another admissions counselor. He asked why I didn’t apply to FIDM. I told him because it was too expensive. He tells me that based on me being Magna cum laude at my high school. I should be able to get in on a partial or full scholarship. I’m 20 years old and this is my FIRST time hearing any of this y’all! 😫😫😫

I will NEVER forget that school counselor. His name was James Bontemps (now deceased). He was a Black man with a southern/ metro swag. When I told him I didn’t even have the money to apply he nicknamed me “Po Chile” said he would handle it, and that I better become somebody.

Long story short. I’m now a proud graduate of FIDM and went on to become the founder of a pretty cool Fashion Tech company. My work now with MISLA, MARTY, VSEDC’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center in South Central, and The Annenberg Foundation is focused on alternative and innovative education, training, and social mobility for inner-city youth. Knowing how the world works and having mentorship and support really is half the battle.

I don’t regret missing out on my Stanford opportunity based on my ignorance of life, because everything happens for a reason. If I had gone to Stanford, I would have missed “the struggle.” It was that struggle that molded me into the woman I am today. And this woman right here is pretty frickin awesome. 🥰🥰🥰

Written by Cassie Betts