Top High School Students Face College Finance Challenges -

Top High School Students Face College Finance Challenges

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Charlotte, N.C. (WJZY) -- Can you imagine, being at the top of your high school class and yet wondering if you would be able make it to college?

Doesn't make sense, right? Well, two valedictorian candidates say they may have a hard time getting a higher education.

"I'm a believer that if you work hard for something, then you can accomplish it. Each year, I just focused on my own grades," said Karen Martinez, a senior at Vance High School.

"Junior and senior year, I stocked up on AP classes, college level classes that Hopewell offers. I took 13 in total," said Jun Soo Kim, a senior at Hopewell High School.

They have more than brains in common. Jun Soo Kim and Karen Martinez are undocumented immigrants. Their parents brought them to the U.S. when they were just kids.

"I think the reality of being an undocumented immigrant didn't hit me until my sophomore year because that's when I was introduced to the whole college thing and what it takes to get there," said Karen.

"I was living here for the past 15 years, so I assumed that I got in-state tuition, but when I found out I was considered an international student, it made me really mad," said Jun Soo.

And they're not alone. There are about 49,000 undocumented students just like Karen and Jun Soo in our state according to recent surveys.

"The students in North Carolina who are undocumented cannot pay an in-state rate and do not qualify for federal or state financial aid. They're also ineligible for loans.

The only option that students have is to receive private scholarships and there's a limited number of those and many of them require social security numbers," said Megan Walsh with the Latin American Coalition.

"Even though these students might have been in our public school system since they were about 6 years old, now they're graduating high school.

If they go to public school in North Carolina, if you're looking at Chapel Hill estimates, it would be about 4,000 for a resident, but for an undocumented student even though they've been here 10, 15 years, they're forced to pay 15,000 a semester," said Megan with the Latin American Coalition. 

So it would seem the American dream -- if you're undocumented -- comes with some fine print.

"My dad wanted a better future for me and our family. The idea of the American Dream sounded great to him. The idea that if you work hard, you can succeed, regardless of your situation," said Jun Soo.

"I felt like all my efforts were in vain, graduating at the top of my class, but not being able to go off to college, not because I didn't qualify, but because I didn't have the financial means was frustrating.

I even got mad at my parents for bringing me here in the first place and at the system for selling an empty dream," said Karen.

As it turns out, Karen has received a full-ride scholarship to Davidson college through Golden Door Scholars, an organization that specifically helps undocumented students.

As for Jun Soo, it looks like he'll have to pay the same full price as any out-of-state student, to attend Chapel Hill.

"My parents keep saying they're going to be able to pay, but I know it's not reasonable. They don't make that much. I know I'll have to get a job in the summer and during the year. My summer is going to be working a lot," said Jun Soo.

"It's not like we can rely on our mom and dads to pay for our education. For us, it has become an individual responsibility already," said Karen.

Karen and Jun Soo have received deferred action for childhood arrivals which allows them to live in the United States and authorizes them to work.

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