DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — As graduation neared last spring for Catherine Hirneisen and Cheyenne King, both found themselves facing a future nobody in their immediate families ever did: attending college.
With the cost of college skyrocketing, neither Burnet High School student thought a university would be in their future because of the financial burden of tuition and other expenses.
“It would have been too overwhelming, I think,” said Hirneisen, now studying bio-chemistry at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
But neither let that keep them from becoming the first in their families to attend college. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves, concentrated on their studies and applied for just about every scholarship they could.
It paid off with each receiving several scholarships. One of the latest was from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, which awarded King $1,500 and Hirneisen $1,000. The association bases its scholarship on a variety of criteria, including those student facing hardships who otherwise might not attain post-secondary education without a boost.
“This isn’t the only scholarship I got, but it definitely helps,” said King, now a nursing student at Angelo State University in San Angelo. “When I was applying for scholarships, I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend college because of the costs.”
At one point, King’s father made too much money for her to qualify for many grants and other forms of financial aid. But after he lost his job, King found herself struggling with the idea that she would not be able to go to college.
“So I just started applying for every scholarship I could find,” she said.
Hirneisen took a similar approach.
“Early in my senior year, I just started looking for any scholarship I could find and applied for them,” she said. “There are scholarships out there if you’re willing to look for them.”
Both Burnet High School graduates are pursuing studies in the medical field. After getting her bio-chemistry degree, Hirneisen plans to attend pharmacy school.
King settled on nursing, particularly pediatric nursing, after an accident claimed the life of a baby brother many years ago. It was through that experience she decided she wanted a career centered on helping others.
But a nursing career required a college degree.
Both college students found that the financial aid not only helped them get into a university but also to focus more on their studies.
“Because of scholarships this first year, I don’t have to work, so I can focus on my classes,” King said, “where many of the other students, they have to work as well. That takes a lot of your time and energy.”
Hirneisen said adjusting to college life has been smoother because of feeling less financial stress thanks to the scholarships.
“It’s such a blessing to have so much help with my college education,” Hirneisen said. “Hopefully, someday, I’ll be in a position to pay it forward.”
As the first college students in their families, both hope to inspire siblings, cousins and other relatives in pursuing their educational dreams. The impact even goes beyond family boundaries as Hirneisen and King show how other economically-challenged high school students can find a financial path to college.
“If you have the aspiration to do it, don’t let one thing stop you,” Hirneisen said. “You have to be willing to work for what you want.”
King added that students should start hunting for scholarships and financial assistance as soon as possible.
“I would tell (high school students) to apply for all the local scholarships you can,” she said. “And, also, reach out to local businesses because, often, they’re willing to help you out. But just don’t say, ‘I can’t afford it.’ You can find a way.”