“I wanted to help out, I’ve always been that person that wants to always be involved in something. And that was also something that I concentrate myself in, major volunteering work.” — Amayrani
Amayrani is a Latinx, first-generation college student. She attended a selective enrollment high school and was raised in the Belmont-Cragin community. Belmon-Cragin is located in northwest Chicago and is a largely Hispanic community.
Amayrani is currently taking a break from college but is interested in pursuing a degree in nursing when she returns in spring 2022. She describes herself as easy-going but organized. During her time off from college, Amayrani is working a full-time job and volunteering with local organizations to help her community.
Amayrani’s Story of Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze
Amayrani graduated from her public high school in Chicago in 2018 and is interested in nursing. She took time off college when the COVID-19 pandemic started and plans to return in the spring semester of 2022.
Amayrani’s high school supported its college-bound seniors by facilitating trips to college campuses, holding weekly college application seminars during the school day, and inviting college representatives to give informational sessions. Despite this support, Amayrani remembered discovering dual enrollment classes on her own, which she took during the spring of her senior year.
She described her lack of early knowledge about dual enrollment as a missed opportunity, and expressed frustration that her school had not encouraged her to enroll in these courses. Amayrani felt like the college adviser she built a relationship with through dual enrollment was ultimately an invaluable resource. “It was crazy because my college adviser that has been [with me] since I started dual enrollment … used to be my church school teacher, [and] without her I would’ve struggled.”
“It was crazy because my college adviser that has been [with me] since I started dual enrollment … used to be my church school teacher, [and] without her I would’ve struggled.”
Amayrani thought her dual enrollment courses helped her get a feel for her local two-year college, and she decided to continue taking classes there after high school graduation. She received a full-ride institutional scholarship and had the opportunity to take classes at other two-year colleges in the city.
Her first semester, she decided to simultaneously enroll in courses at her first college and second two-year college with a larger campus. However, she felt a stronger sense of community at her first college: “[That] was the college where I got involved into the Latin group, that was a college where … you can get familiarized more easily. I was able to meet people from different clubs, from sports clubs, and teachers.”
As Amayrani continued to take classes at both of these colleges, she learned how to find the resources she needed. She appreciated how her first college had students and staff stationed at tables in a central location on campus to share resources.
“You had to pass right through there to get to class and you would see … club information, financial assistance, and there would be advisors,” explained Amayrani. She felt like this communications hub at the center of campus made her first college feel more like a welcoming school in comparison to her second college, which did not have a similar space.
“You had to pass right through there to get to class and you would see … club information, financial assistance, and there would be advisors.”
During the fall semester of her second year, Amayrani took an EMT course at a third two-year college, and she noted that this experience only reaffirmed her positive outlook on her first college. Because the last two colleges she attended were larger, she experienced difficulty finding resources and connecting with other students. Amayrani also found that counseling was not consistent at these two colleges. “It was like when you go to a store, you take a ticket, that’s really pretty much how they go, you get a different person each time.”
Near the end of her second year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Amayrani’s colleges to shift to remote learning, and she remembered feeling frustrated. “I’m trying to work on a test online, and it was just not working. We had a lot of technical difficulties, everybody’s using the same system … and when that time hit, it was a little hard because I didn’t lose my job, but I lost hours,” she said. “You don’t wanna stress yourself out, so that’s when I decided … it’s better if I do this instead of overwhelming myself … I’d rather take a break.”
“You don’t wanna stress yourself out, so that’s when I decided … it’s better if I do this instead of overwhelming myself … I’d rather take a break.”
Amayrani decided to take time off college the spring semester of 2020. Although she wasn’t enrolled in classes, she continued to pursue her academic interests. “I concentrated myself into working, [but] I don’t think I left that educational side of me,” she explained. Amayrani spent time tutoring, searching for scholarships, and volunteering to provide COVID-19 relief. “I needed to do something, I couldn’t just stay at home [while] not being in school,” she said.
Amayrani also regularly received emails from her first college about new protocols and programs: “A couple of emails that just explain… What are the new rules? What’s available in the college? Like, what are the hours? The library hours? I feel like that was important.”
She considered how even though she felt comfortable making appointments with counselors during her time off, that is not the case for every student who takes a break: “I would do a one-on-one appointment, but I know maybe not everyone is super comfortable going back and talking to [counselors], someone who might be questioning you, ‘Well, why did you go? What were you doing?’”
“I would do a one-on-one appointment, but I know maybe not everyone is super comfortable going back and talking to [counselors], someone who might be questioning you, ‘Well, why did you go? What were you doing?’”
She wished that her college had offered live Zoom meetings to provide campus updates like new programming, scholarships, or financial aid options, particularly for students who were taking time off during the pandemic.
“If my college reached out to me about more financial options … that would motivate me a little more [to return],” said Amayrani. She described how her peers who also took time off college during the pandemic got “sidetracked,” noting that the opportunity to continue earning money seemed more attractive to them than returning to school.
“If my college reached out to me about more financial options … that would motivate me a little more [to return].”
Amayrani, on the other hand, had planned to use her earnings during the pandemic to cover tuition and fees later on in her undergraduate journey. She suggested that re-engagement scholarships for students who took time off during the pandemic might draw more students back to school.
What Worked for Amayrani
- Developing a long-term relationship with her college counselor. Amayrani was able to connect with a college counselor early on in her educational journey thanks to dual enrollment courses. Amayrani suggested that having a consistent counselor makes it easier for students to ask for support. “If you don’t go to an advisor or you don’t do research for yourself after going back from a break, I feel like that is why it makes people not want to go back.”
- Spaces where students can easily access resources, organizations, and counselors. Amayrani struggled to feel welcomed at her larger two-year colleges because she did not find spaces where she could easily access information about organizations and resources on campus. At her smaller two-year college, Amayrani partially attributed her ability to thrive socially and academically to the college’s placement of communications about resources, financial aid opportunities, and student organizations in a central location that all students had to pass through to navigate the campus. Communication took the form of flyers as well as staff and students who engaged with those who passed by.
- Opportunities to stay engaged with learning and her original career aspirations despite taking time off college. During her time off, Amayrani tutored, searched for scholarships, and volunteered to distribute PPE during the pandemic. She noted that these opportunities helped her stay in touch with her interest in education and nursing. She described these opportunities as invaluable and noted that without them, she was unsure if she would still be interested in returning to college.
Amayrani’s Hopes for the Field
- High Schools: Amayrani appreciated how her high school provided her with time and space during the college admissions process to meet with counselors or other student support staff at various colleges. However, she wishes she had received more information about dual-enrollment classes during high school.
- Colleges: Amayrani felt it was helpful to find communications about resources, student organizations, and employment opportunities in places where students regularly congregate or pass through. Amayrani also believes colleges should consider holding regular virtual or in-person opportunities for students who are taking time off to reconnect with college staff and learn about new resources, campus activities, or financial aid opportunities, such as re-engagement grants.
Read other students’ stories of navigating the post-secondary maze:
- Nancy is a Latinx, first-generation college student from Brighton Park. She immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in another four-year college. Read her story.
- Arthur is a Black college student who attended a high school on the Southwest Side of Chicago. He immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation and has since transferred to two-year colleges as well as an online bachelor’s degree program. Read his story.
- Moises is a Mexican American, first-generation college student from West Lawn. He immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in another four-year college. Read his story.
- Kiara is a Belizean American college student from South Shore. She immediately enrolled in an HBCU after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in a nursing program at that college. Read her story.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Amayrani for taking the time to share her story with us.
Adayan Munsuarrietta, a third-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies as well as Media Arts and Design, interned with the To&Through Project during the summer of 2021, during which he interviewed these five CPS graduates and drafted their stories.