When something I want is free, I tend to get pretty excited. Whether it’s the buy-one, get-one-free Black Friday deal or cashing in reward points for free gear or gift cards, I love feeling like I got a good deal.
In 1998, after my brother had received a free ride to the University of Louisville for his athletic abilities, I began looking for ways I could afford to go to college. I knew free was probably out of reach—I didn’t possess that same level of athletic talent, and while my grades and test scores were good, full scholarships were almost impossible to obtain. I submitted to early-bird deadlines in hopes of larger financial assistance. I applied to every scholarship opportunity I came across, yet by the middle of my senior year, I had only received half-tuition scholarships to several institutions. Coming up with the other half of tuition was not feasible for my family.
And then I received a package in the mail telling me I had been nominated for a full-tuition scholarship at Berea College. I had never heard of Berea, but I read all the materials in the packet, sent in my application and prayed.
Meer weeks before graduation, I received my Berea acceptance letter—I was actually going to college completely tuition free! There was no better feeling.
Fast forward 23 years (wow, that hurts to type) and the value of that free education is so much clearer to me. What Berea gave me didn’t just set me free financially, it set me free to pursue a career I love.
I started out as a biology major at Berea because I thought a career in the medical field would break me free of the financial struggles we had growing up. But professors like Dr. Megan Hoffman and Dr. Stephanie Browner, who listened to my fears and passions and encouraged me to pursue what I loved most, changed everything. Because I graduated with nearly no debt, I was able to take those foot-in-the-door jobs, writing and designing for small-town newspapers, to gain experience.
You see, that is the true value of Berea’s free education—it is the mentorship of faculty who genuinely care about the whole student, inside and outside of the classroom. It’s the chance for one-on-one sessions with brilliant convocation speakers that lead to extraordinary internships. It’s the opportunity to thrive in a community of students without feeling less-than because of my economic background. It’s having labor supervisors, like Chris Miller, who dole out high levels of responsibility so students can learn how to lead projects successfully in a work setting. It’s the opportunity to buy my first home less than a year after graduation because there was no debt hanging over my head.
At Berea, the value of free goes well beyond a tuition-free promise, and for me, it was an exceptional deal.
Explore this issue of the Berea College Magazine and discover many more stories (including one about my husband, Scott Darst ’02) that exemplify the value of Berea’s tuition-free education, and join us in the national conversation about free college tuition.
Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03
Editor/Director of Publications and Media Relations