Maria Sandoval walks across campus with a bright smile on her face, pep in her step and an aura of positive energy around her.
At first glance, most would not realize the heavy burden that rests on her shoulders.
Sandoval, a junior, spends every day either working at one of her three jobs or attending one of her five classes at Cal State Fullerton in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree in art education.
Sandoval said she works hard because she is paying for much of her college education on her own, with some assistance from financial aid.
“I’m actually doing what I said I’ve always wanted to do,” said Sandoval.
Sandoval said her drive to succeed started when she was a young girl growing up in an extremely strict and traditional Mexican family.
Growing up as the middle child with three brothers and one sister, Sandoval said her mother always tried to make her stand out.
“I felt like I was always the one that wanted to go outside that box,” she said.
Sandoval said her sister was the one who mainly inspired her to attend college and pushed her to go, but it was also because she wanted to impress her parents.
Before transferring to CSUF, Sandoval attended Orange Coast College and was later scouted to play soccer at Santa Ana College where she eventually received an associate degree.
The associate degree was more for her parents, she said, but obtaining her bachelor’s degree is something she is doing more for herself.
“I love art. It’s my passion, so getting an art degree is for me. It’s a good feeling,” Sandoval said.
In the beginning, Sandoval said she was doubtful that she could attend college because of the staggering costs.
The cost of tuition fees for a full-time student at CSUF is $6,188 per semester, according to the Office of Financial Aid website.
“My initial reaction was: ‘No, I just can’t do it,’ and that was my excuse,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval has paid $800 in art supplies for this semester. She also spent about $200 for books and $220 for parking.
She also paid the difference of what grants didn’t cover.
Sandoval’s parents help out with school by purchasing small items, such as art supplies.
“Small little things like that, it’s such a big help because it’s expensive,” she said.
Sandoval said she became more excited about going to college after she found out that she would be getting financial aid in the form of grants.
Sandoval’s parents offered to pay for her college expenses, but she declined because she wanted do it on her own.
She said she didn’t want to live with the fact that if she started to go to school and ended up not finishing, then her parents would have wasted a lot of money.
The grants she received from financial aid have helped her pay for a good portion of her school expenses.
“I know it’s not all of it, but it’s some help … I’m truly grateful for it,” she said.
Students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for loans, grants and scholarships.
There are 24,067 CSUF students getting some type of financial aid this semester, according to Monica Coloso, CSUF assistant director of financial aid.
Coloso said she would advise students to “complete the FAFSA and mind the deadlines … even if they don’t think that they’re going to get anything.”
She added that there is a large amount of scholarships on the financial aid website for students to look through.
“(Financial aid) makes higher education more an obtainable goal,” said Coloso.
Sandoval pays for the rest of her college expenses by working three jobs.
One of her jobs is at Victoria’s Secret as a sales associate.
Sandoval was offered a manager position there twice, but had to decline because she couldn’t work the extra hours while going to school.
Her other jobs are at the Mission Art Center in Tustin and the City of Santa Ana. Both positions allow her to work with children and art.
Anthony Novella, community services supervisor for the city of Santa Ana, has been Sandoval’s manager for 10 years and knows her work ethic well.
“(She) has always been driven and if it were any other person, I might be concerned about them working multiple jobs and going to school full time,” said Novella.
Novella added that he is proud of Sandoval’s hard work.
He described her as organized, determined and an optimist.
“She keeps her schedule like a well-oiled machine without compromising her responsibilities at work with me and the city,” he said.
Sandoval receives a lot of support from work and her family because they know how hard she works towards her goal of graduating.
“I’m doing it for myself, but also to push others to do it. It’s possible even if you don’t get the help that you can still work your way through school on your own,” Sandoval said.
She said she finds time for herself during the weekends to go out with friends, hang out with family and go to Disneyland.
“It balances out my whole schedule, if not I feel like I will freak out,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval said she is considering quitting one of her jobs in order to finish school and have more free time.
However, she has to consider how she will pay for school as well.
“I don’t know if I’m going to continue doing it like this next semester because it is pretty tough,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval has tried to save money, but said it is hard for her since she started paying rent at her parent’s house and pays her own bills.
However, paying for school has helped her learn how to budget and save money.
“It’s a learning lesson for sure,” she said.
Even though there may not be many art jobs out there right now, it hasn’t stopped Sandoval from working towards graduating in a few years and then continuing her dream of being an art teacher.
Her advice to someone in a similar situation is to be happy, positive and motivated.
Through the long days at school and work, Sandoval continues to look at the positive side of life.
“I like doing what I do, coming to school and working … I’m happy,” she said.
Sandoval wants to show people, especially high school graduates, that if she can do it, so can they.
“Now, I want to inspire people … there’s no excuses,” she added.