First in family to go to university: Appolonia’s scholarship story
Published 28 Sep, 2021 · 4 minute read
Receiving a UQ scholarship gave Appolonia Smith-Laffin, a Bachelor of Business Management / Bachelor of Education (Secondary) student, the support she needed to be the first person in her family to attend university.
To say that getting a spot at The University of Queensland was a surprise for Appolonia is an understatement. Growing up with her sister and single mum in Ipswich, she had given little thought to attending uni at all – let alone studying at UQ – until she got a place in the Young Achievers Program.
“I never originally thought I would go to university,” she says.
“It just seemed like something for smart people.”
Modesty aside, Appolonia has proven herself to be one of those “smart people” – her placement in the Young Achievers Program in Year 10 (based on her good grades) are evidence of that. Now, she’s the first person in her family to take that extra step into tertiary education.
“No one in my family had gone to university before,” she says.
“Nobody I know had gone – it’s something people around me just weren’t doing.”
What pushed Appolonia towards uni?
Appolonia says her mum always wanted her to do and be more than she had been able to. The Young Achievers Program was the perfect avenue for Appolonia to start this journey.
“My motivation for applying for the program and scholarship was to take all the opportunities that I can to set myself up for a good future,” she says.
“The reason I get out of bed in the morning and come to class is because of everything I have worked for in the past – and I don’t want that to go to waste. That’s my motivation to keep going.”
Appolonia has found herself drawn specifically to teaching, as she has a passion for addressing education inequality.
At first, she thought her only option was to be a teacher’s aide. Getting her UQ scholarship opened the door for her to become the teacher.
“I first became interested in studying teaching when I was in Year 9 and watched a documentary about how girls in other countries don’t have access to an education,” she says.
“That really made me focus on what I had and feel grateful for the education I was receiving, because not everyone has the same opportunity.”
She hopes she can inspire similar students to dream bigger and go further – because she’s living proof that it’s possible.
“The impact I want to have after I graduate is motivating students to believe in themselves, even when they come from a background that has disadvantaged them,” says Appolonia.
“Being able to study education and business means I can make a change in the world.”
How has Appolonia’s scholarship changed her life?
Once the shock wore off, it quickly dawned on Appolonia that her future was about to change.
“When I received confirmation of the scholarship, I honestly couldn’t believe that I was chosen to be part of the program and that I was actually good enough to get a scholarship,” she says.
“Reading the confirmation, I felt very excited about the future and hopeful about who I’m going to become and what I’m going to achieve.”
Applying for the Young Achievers Program was a straightforward exercise of writing to UQ about her living situation and outlining how the scholarship could benefit her family. And combining this with a UQ Link Scholarship was even easier – just ticking the “financial hardship” box in her QTAC application and providing the relevant evidence.
UQ Link recipients receive 5 entry rank adjustments to help them enter UQ and $3000 per year for up to 3 years. Learn more.
She’s already seeing the rewards of her effort and success.
“Growing up in a single-parent household, I didn’t have access to home internet, and I didn’t have access to a computer,” says Appolonia.
“The support I’ve received from UQ gave me the means to be able to buy a computer and purchase internet for myself and my family to focus on our education.”
It’s difficult for Appolonia to imagine her life without the UQ Link scholarship and the Young Achievers Program – not just because the scholarship brought her to UQ, but because the program itself was incredibly formative for her during high school.
“I don’t think I’d be the person I am today,” she says.
“The camps I went on really put me out of my comfort zone and made me a lot stronger and more confident than I was before. I have found so many different things I’m interested in, such as volunteering.”
Students in the Young Achievers Program enjoy a range of benefits including $1000 per year in Year 11 and 12, then $7000 per year for up to 4 years while studying at UQ. Learn more.
Appolonia’s advice for other students
Appolonia wouldn’t hesitate to apply for her scholarship again if given the chance to go back, and she encourages anyone thinking about it to do the same.
“Just do it – because you never know if you might get it unless you apply,” she says.
And for future students feeling nervous about coming to UQ, Appolonia wants them to know they’re not alone. Those new-starter jitters are totally normal, and almost everyone gets them.
“Coming to UQ wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be at first,” she says.
“I definitely struggled with adjusting to university after leaving high school. But, as the days and weeks go on, I’m getting used to it and really starting to enjoy university and all the opportunities that come with it.”
“It gets better with time. At first it can feel overwhelming, but over time you get used to and settle into university life, and you become more confident.”