Gao appears to be a typical college-bound freshman. She likes to relax, draw, listen to music, play the cello, and she’ll be attending Gustavus Adolphus College this fall as a freshman.

Yet, she’s unique. Goa’s now the first in her immediate family to attend a 4-year college.

To get to this point, Gao has had to overcome significant barriers that might have stopped many teenagers.

“My family is financially poor,” she says, “we rely on whoever can work in the house to be able to pay the bills.” A study by the American Council on Education found that fewer than 50% of low income high school graduates enroll in college.

Financial burden aside, Gao has been able to achieve academic success in a difficult living environment. She lives in the same house as her parents, her seven siblings, and her nieces and nephews.

Gao was referred to RESOURCE’s youth employment program, which provides employment and education support for youth, ages 14-24. “Gao is a hard worker and a determined student,” says Mai, Gao’s case manager. “She’s worked hard to keep up her grades and complete college applications.”

“When I came to RESOURCE I was hoping I could get the help I needed,” Gao says. “Mai was able to give me information and encouragement.” Gao got help to maintain her grades and start the college application process.

After applying to five colleges and universities around Minnesota, Gao was amazed when she was not only accepted, but that she also had a choice. She chose her “reach school”, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. “Gustavus was one of the schools I was most shocked about,” says Gao. “I got two scholarships. I got the dean’s scholarship.”

Through a combination of scholarships and financial aid, Gao can afford to attend Gustavus this fall. She has plans to become a pharmacist, and looks forward to having financial stability in her life.

“Hopefully, ten years from now I’ll be financially stable and able to provide for myself.”