For Many Puerto Ricans, College Plans Washed Away With Hurricane Maria : NPR Ed As Puerto Rico students settle into high school on the mainland — one big question emerges: What happens to my college plans? That's especially scary for seniors, as application deadlines loom.
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For Many Puerto Ricans, College Plans Washed Away With Hurricane Maria

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For Many Puerto Ricans, College Plans Washed Away With Hurricane Maria

For Many Puerto Ricans, College Plans Washed Away With Hurricane Maria

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're checking in with two students from Puerto Rico who we met on the program last week. They thought they had their college plans set. Then Hurricane Maria hit. As NPR's Elissa Nadworny found out, they are both having to start over.

YERIANNE ROLDAN: My name is Yerianne Roldan. I'm 17 years old. And I'm thinking of becoming a graphic designer.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Yerianne came to Orlando a month ago from Puerto Rico, where she's lived her whole life. She and her family are now staying at a hotel by the airport, her, her sister, her mom and her stepdad all in one room. Since coming to the mainland she's made a good friend who's in a similar situation.

ZULEYKA: My name is Zuleyka. I'm 17 years old. And in the future I want to be a pediatrician.

NADWORNY: Zuleyka went to school in San Juan, and now she's living in Orlando with her grandfather. Both girls are continuing their senior year at Colonial High School. Their class schedules are nailed down. They've made new friends. They even went to homecoming, a high school tradition. Another high school tradition they're experiencing - meeting with the school counselor about next year.

BRANDON THOMPSON: I'm assuming you're wanting to do a bachelor's degree, correct? OK.

NADWORNY: Zuleyka and Yerianne are meeting together with college specialist Brandon Thompson.

THOMPSON: These are all of the state universities in Florida.

NADWORNY: You want to stay in Florida, right, Mr. Thompson asks. They both nod. He pulls out a list of schools to show them.

THOMPSON: Gainesville's more north Florida. Tallahassee has FSU. That's more north Florida. You have UCF in Orlando. You have USF over in Tampa. So those are kind of the central ones.

NADWORNY: The girls look overwhelmed.

THOMPSON: Any questions for me at the moment?

ROLDAN: Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I know. It's a lot. I know. It's a lot.

ZULEYKA: (Speaking Spanish).

NADWORNY: "It's hard to start again," Zuleyka says. She already did this back in Puerto Rico - sifting through the college choices, deciding which schools to apply to, and studying and taking Puerto Rico's college entrance exam.

ZULEYKA: (Speaking Spanish).

NADWORNY: "To do it again in a new place," she says, "it's a lot of work." She's hoping to study biology and then go on to medical school. For Yerianne, she says she feels lost when it comes to looking for college in Florida.

ROLDAN: I didn't even know where my path started, and I needed support because I can't do this alone. I have no idea.

NADWORNY: She thinks she wants to find a school with a good advertising program, but she hasn't even made it through an application.

ROLDAN: I was kind of filling out an application yesterday and they were asking for my permanent address. And I don't have one at the moment, so I don't know what to put there.

NADWORNY: Should she list the hotel address? Should she put her stepdad's brother's house in Orlando? She keeps getting emails from a private school she's never heard of. Is that worth applying to? There is one thing both girls do know - they have to take the SAT. And so they did. I checked back in with Yerianne to see how it went.

ROLDAN: My time management was off. My focus was off.

NADWORNY: If only the situation was different, she says. But amid all this two local schools in Orlando awarded both Yerianne and Zuleyka scholarships, so that's lifted some of the weight off their shoulders. Yerianne says it also gave her a confidence boost.

ROLDAN: It just confirms what I've always believed in, which is that I'm capable of accomplishing everything I set my mind to.

NADWORNY: Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY BASH AND FRANKIE J. SONG, "SUGA SUGA")

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