The strive for success as the independent student


Tiffani Adams, Volunteer Writer

The sun hits her face as Leyland Allen hauls herself out of bed, legs still stiff from last night’s shift, and heads toward her words of affirmations wall. The words “Keep Going” written in bold, black ink are embedded into her mind as she gets ready to start her day. Allen lives in a scholarship home – the only home she has. 

She represents a well-known class of college students at the University of North Alabama: the independent student. 

“People think since independent students get more in Financial Aid and loans, that their life is good and nothing is hard,” Allen¬ said. “Everything that I want, I have to get it myself.”

Allen, a junior at the university, has only herself to depend on. 

Throughout her college career, she has faced many emotional adversaries, such as insecurity, all while trying to complete a degree in Human Resource Management. The reality of life struck her when she was a first-year student, as she was thrown into the world as a young, black woman with no assistance. She was left very frightened.

“When I turned 18, my parents basically thought their job was done, and I have had minimal contact since then,” Allen said. “I jumped into university with only myself trying to figure it all out. For a while, I felt off balance. A big part of my journey was trying to re-balance, tackle life and roll with the punches.” 

Allen stays on balance by budgeting her finances and practicing healthy time management using Excel and notebooks. She sits in her room at the beginning of each week going over every expense and pondering potential new phrases to put on her affirmation wall. 

Like most independent students, the elements of time and money are imperative for success in school and personal life. While Allen’s student status granted her a refund check, most of the money is saved, as she is currently trying to get a more reliable car. 

For Allen, it is significant to always be working, so the mound of bills are always paid. Since starting college, she has had five jobs. One of jobs is at Southwire, where she works 12 hours a day, five days a week. Her experience in the workforce is what drives her to complete her degree in Human Resource Management.

“I have had many jobs and experience with how things can be unjust in the workforce,” Allen said. “With my area of study, I want to improve conditions in the workplace for college students, especially for black women like myself.”

However, working all the time is not easy. While Allen is at work performing mundane, strenuous tasks, other social events are occurring and a lingering feeling of being out of the loop often overcomes her. 

“I’m still young and want to have fun,” Allen said.

Allen’s life changed when she was recently awarded a full scholarship to UNA. After an extensive interview process from the scholarship committee and many talks with Financial Aid, the expense of housing no longer clouds Allen’s thoughts with anxiety. With aid in housing, the expense of rent is no longer needed as of now, and she is relieved she can put the money towards other expenses. Now, she advocates for college to be more accessible, and tuition be affordable for everyone. 

“There is help out there,” Allen said. “I was lucky to have found such a great scholarship, even though I am close to graduation. The focus needs to be on accessibility. While UNA is in the top 20 schools in Alabama for low priced tuition, the cost is only going up every semester.”

Allen said that she knows that there are plenty other students in her same situation.

“It really can be mentally draining,” Allen said. “Colleges being more affordable can help that pain.”

Even though her situation is getting better, Allen still reflects on her peers and how they are always in contact and proximity with their parents. While Allen has many friends to aid her in challenges and keeping a positive mindset, her distance with her family makes her always long for additional support, both emotionally and financially. This stark contrast in support is also a part of the independent student status, and Allen remarks how it adds to the mental load. 

Allen’s advice for anyone in similar situations to her own is to keep going. She emphasizes the importance of a positive attitude and approaching challenges head on. 

She also recommends quality support from peers and to use university resources as much as one can. Even though the life of an independent student is not highly regarded, many face these adversaries and Allen is sure she can be an advocate for these voices. 

So, every day, Allen wakes up, heads to her affirmation wall, and says, “I can do it”.