College wasn't something that Gustavo Almazan thought was in his immediate future. Initially he planned to enlist in the military and start college afterward. Little did he know that one high school pep rally would change everything.
"One day at school they told the seniors that we were having a special pep rally to announce something really cool," said Almazan, who was a Sam Rayburn High School student at the time. "As soon as they explained that we could have free college at San Jac through the Promise program, the whole auditorium blew into excitement."
Almazan is part of the inaugural cohort of 500 Harris County Promise students at San Jacinto College. In partnership with Pasadena ISD and Good Reason Houston, the Harris County Promise program was established to advance degree and certificate completion and to create a college-going culture among underrepresented high school students. Graduates from Sam Rayburn, South Houston, and Dobie high schools are eligible to receive up to three years of guaranteed tuition and additional assistance upon taking the Promise pledge and becoming Harris County Promise Scholars.
Now that he's a college student, Almazan says this opportunity has opened doors and his eyes to more things.
"This has been one of the biggest blessings for my family and I. When my sister was going to San Jac, she didn't have this opportunity, so it was harder financially. Now that I'm attending college through the Promise program, it's helped save income that allows my family and I to do more for ourselves," he added.
Transitioning from high school to college during a pandemic was stressful at first, but now Almazan says he has his routine down.
"I changed my work schedule around to prioritize college," he said. "Being in this program has shown me how much it will pay off to put college first. After I complete my associate degree, I can transfer to a university to get a bachelor's and still enter the military but at a higher rank with better pay. Now I know how to look for scholarships and grants to help pay for the rest of my education. This has definitely inspired me to work harder for my education. It's worth it."
Because the program is so new, Almazan encourages other high school students to ask their counselors about it and get more information about taking the Promise pledge.
"I really want other high school students to take advantage of the Promise program," he said. "Why would you knowingly miss out on three years of paid tuition for an associate degree? That's a huge deal. Even for those who are thinking about going straight into the military after high school, I can speak from experience because I was on that path — get your education first. It will pay off for you. The San Jac advisors, faculty, and administrators really work with you and want you to succeed. It's amazing."
Updated fall 2023: Learn more about the Promise @ San Jac Scholarship (formerly Harris County Promise program).