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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

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How can you afford Summer College?

Here are two inspiring stories about how students raised funds to attend Summer College:

Ben Tablada

Ben Tablada

Ben Tablada was thrilled when he received his acceptance letter to Summer College's highly competitive Business World program. A junior at Savannah Arts Academy in Savannah, Georgia, Ben is president of his chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America, with a longstanding interest in the field. He's also secretary of the Beta Club and a member of six other school organizations, as well as an intern at the Jepson Center Museum of Modern Art, a community volunteer, and a server at an Asian fusion restaurant.

When faced with the challenge of funding his Summer College experience, Ben was determined to find a way. He held a brainstorming session with his mom, during which he decided to draft a letter asking for the support of family, friends, fellow church members, and various student leadership organizations in his community. "For the past 17 years I have been working hard to achieve my goals," he wrote, "and I am taking every opportunity that will help me reach those objectives."

To help make his efforts more personal, he included a photo of himself with every one of the more than fifty letters he mailed. He knew that close family members would be happy to receive the photo, but he also wanted other recipients to be able to attach a face to the request—whether they were acquaintances who hadn't seen him in a while or people in his community who had never met him. "The photo helped a lot," says Ben. In addition, Ben created a campaign on the fundraising website GoFundMe.

The results were nothing short of astonishing. Within weeks, Ben's campaign had brought in contributions totaling over $4,000—approximately two-thirds of the program cost. The checks arrived in Ben's mailbox payable to Cornell University Summer College. Ben's savings from part-time jobs made up much of the balance.

Ben credits his family and a strong support system for his success, including friends in a similar situation with whom he swapped fundraising ideas. And he's especially grateful for the support of several nonprofit organizations, such as the Student Leadership Program and Junior Achievement of Georgia, which made significant contributions. "Don't be afraid to approach large organizations," he advises, since those organizations sometimes have funds to support this kind of request.

"I refuse to let a number stop me from becoming successful," wrote Ben—and we expect that nothing else will, either.

Michael Chapa

Michael Chapa

When Michael Chapa was accepted to Summer College in 2012, he didn’t have the means to pay for it. Not willing to let that stop him, he applied himself determinedly to raising the needed funds—and in three weeks he had donations totaling $8,600 and a plane ticket from his home in Texas to Cornell.

How did he do it?

Michael was a junior at IDEA College Preparatory Mission, a new charter school in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Out of 53 students in his class, Michael ranked at the very top.

Michael’s teachers knew that he was accepted to Summer College and that he needed to raise funds to attend. They suggested that he write a sponsor letter to everyone he knew: family members and friends, local businesses, and veterans’ organizations.

Holding on to the belief that he could raise the funds, Michael approached individuals and businesses in his town, mustering all of his communication skills to talk to people about his goal. He also held a fund-raising event.

Thirty people donated between $50 and $4,000. Everyone he asked was proud of his acceptance to Cornell Summer College, especially a couple of teachers in his school who are Cornell graduates. And when he had nearly reached his goal, the mother of one of his teachers donated her air miles for his trip to Ithaca.

Michael carefully followed up with his donors, picking up the funds himself, thanking them personally, and then writing to them about his summer at Cornell and sending them photos of his summer experiences. He adds that his mom helped him tremendously by driving him to the donors, contacting them when he couldn't, and supporting him in every way possible.

After six weeks in the Summer College engineering program, Michael felt that his efforts to get there had been well worth it. He enjoyed the experience of independence (“no one told me when to sleep, when to study, or even when to do my laundry”), and the program confirmed his interest in becoming an aerospace engineer.

A very positive, polite, and happy young man, Michael (now Cornell class of '17) is pleased to join his brother (Cornell class of ’13) as the first generation of their family to attend college. He’s also justifiably proud of his ability to set and achieve an ambitious goal, and grateful for the opportunity to strengthen both his communication skills and family bonds.