CLARKSTON, Ga—Higher education wasn’t always on Colton Smith’s mind growing up. He began paying rent at age 16. At 18, he left his home in rural Florida to come to Atlanta.
“I didn’t know anyone in the city, but I knew leaving home was best for me,” he said.
His parents had divorced when he was an infant, and he grew up “living in about 37 different places,” with his sisters and single mom, he said.
In Atlanta, he found a house he shared with six roommates, working two jobs to support himself.
As a dual enrollment student, Smith took college courses while in high school. He dreamed of one day working in pediatric medicine. But on his own, it was a different story.
“I wasn’t really thinking about my future,” he said. “But I knew I liked to work with kids and wanted to do something with pediatrics one day.”
Smith was 21 when he entered Perimeter College in 2014. At the time he was still working two jobs—one at a local day care and the other at an Atlanta restaurant.
Juggling school and work was nothing new. Smith had worked 35 hours a week during high school in Florida. In college, he balanced “changing hundreds of diapers” at his day care job, serving customers at the restaurant and solving equations in his organic chemistry lab. He also joined Phi Theta Kappa, the campus honors club, eventually becoming its president.
As he entered his 20s, however, he realized he needed to concentrate more on school. Eventually, he quit his restaurant job, and cut back on his hours at the day care job to concentrate more fully on his studies. “I really needed to finish strong,” he said.
Smith’s work ethic has paid off. Now 24 years old, he joins fellow Perimeter College student Hoa Pham as a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, one of the nation’s top scholarships for two-year college students. The competitive national scholarship provides up to $90,000 for completion of an undergraduate degree at any college or university in the nation. To be considered for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, students must have at least a 3.5 GPA and financial need.
After receiving his associate degree this May, Smith would like to go to the University of Washington or Clemson University to pursue the rest of his undergraduate studies and then on to medical school. He believes he will figure out a way to make it happen—regardless of whether he receives the scholarship. (The announcement will be in April).
“I am a big believer if you are putting in the most amount of work and doing your best, good things will come your way,” he said. “I am trying not to count my chickens before they hatch, but I do have confidence in myself—that’s something that I didn’t have when I first started here. I tell other students sometimes there’s a little voice that says you can’t do it, but if you persevere, whatever effort you put out will come back to you.”
To learn more about former Perimeter College Jack Kent Cooke scholarship winners, see the article, “Where are They Now?”