Maheen “Mia” Ahmed had a full plate and then some when she arrived at Howard Community College (HCC) in 2016.
The Centennial High School graduate attended classes while working 40 hours a week as a medical assistant to help pay for her tuition.
“It wasn’t a good idea, especially at age 18,” she said. “But not every decision you make after high school is right.”
Unable to keep her grades up while working, she took a break from HCC. But in 2019, she decided to give college another try. She reached out to the HCC Financial Aid Services office for help.
“Since I was trying to improve my grades and get more time for school, I wanted to give more time to my academics and have less hours for a job,” she said. “I figured if there’s any way I could gain some financial aid, it would mean I’d have to pay less out of pocket.”
Financial aid counselors met with Ahmed regularly, guiding her through the process. She ended up receiving enough grants and scholarships to cover her entire tuition.
Ahmed started slow, taking two classes at a time. And unlike her first year, she reached out to her professors for guidance.
“I told my teachers and advisors, ‘This is my situation. I don't want to do this again. Let’s keep it going.’”
As Ahmed’s grades improved, she received additional scholarships, honors and awards.
“The stress of paying for school can definitely kill motivation and burn you out really, really easily,” she said. “I had the privilege of being awarded grants and scholarships. Having those and academic recognition definitely just propelled me to keep moving forward.”
So much so that in 2021, Ahmed ran for president of the HCC Student Government Association (SGA) – and won. She was also inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of two-year colleges. Ahmed’s GPA went from a 1.3 during her first year at HCC to a 3.8 her final year.
Ahmed recently graduated with an associate degree in general studies and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in occupational psychology.
Looking back, she said she’s incredibly grateful for the support, education and perspective she gained as a student at HCC.
“I’m thankful for the community here, especially the students,” she said. “You get so many outlooks on life here that I don’t think you could get anywhere else.”