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Pheobe Stoddard crowd sourced her college goals
A village store and a Covid-inspired scholarship program shape a young woman’s path
Phoebe Stoddard spent most of her high school career at Craftsbury Academy waiting for her “Eureka moment.” When, by senior year, it still hadn’t come, Phoebe didn’t know what she wanted to do. And with college deadlines looming, she felt overwhelmed.
“College picking was scary because it felt so definite. The idea that I have to pick one thing at 19 years old and do that for the rest of my life was terrifying. The biggest thing was I didn’t want to be stuck,” Phoebe said at the time.
Having gone back and forth about whether she should go to college at all, she ended up turning to her community for advice. She had been working at the Craftsbury Village Store since she turned 16, and she realized it was a great place to ask her neighbors about their life experiences and seek their input.
“I heard from people from all different backgrounds — like my cousin, who did a couple of years of college and then went on to pursue other interests; my boss, who’s running a successful business all by herself using the knowledge she gained from her high school business classes; and others who went to college for four years and are now doing something completely different from what they studied. It made me realize that life doesn’t have to be a straight path.”
Talking to customers who passed through the store, she got more perspective on her options and got more comfortable with the idea that she didn’t have to have it all figured out.
Phoebe also realized she had a great role model in her own family.
“My mom inspires me a lot. I don’t tell her that because it will make her all mushy,” Phoebe laughs. Now a successful lawyer practicing in Newport, her mom took 16 years to get her bachelor’s degree, having taken time out to raise her children and to work on the family dairy farm. She then went on to get her master’s from Goddard College, then did a clerkship study to earn her law degree.
“She didn’t have this straight-line path either. So I realized that I, at 19, can make some twists and turns too,” Phoebe said.
Phoebe also turned to VSAC’s GEAR UP program, which offers career and college planning support to students throughout their middle and high school years. “VSAC made everything easy. I poured out all my questions, and they were so helpful. And there were so many little things that helped along the way, like not having to pay for my SATs. I’m so appreciative, and I’m so glad I could be a part of it.”
In the end, Phoebe ended up applying to six colleges, with her top choice being Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. “I got in, but the financial package, and Covid, threw a wrench into those plans.”
Phoebe credits the 802Opportunity Scholarship program with getting her to college. That program, which launched in July of 2021 to help low-income Vermonters who had disproportionately felt the economic impacts of the pandemic, covers up to two years of free tuition to CCV. In his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, Governor Phil Scott proposed extending that program, and the Legislature is currently evaluating that proposal.
“That scholarship opened the doors to college, and I’m so glad I did it,” says Phoebe.
Phoebe is now all set up for her second semester at CCV, attending in-person classes three days a week just up the road in Newport. “I realized I loved college,” she reports, though she couldn’t say the same of her classes in her chosen concentration — bookkeeping. So this fall she decided to change her major.
“When I got to my first semester of college and realized I didn’t like bookkeeping, I said, ok, let’s go back to something I liked. I remembered taking a psychology class and a sociology class in 11th grade, and I really liked both. I like figuring out people, and I like kids.”
So she switched to behavioral science, a major Phoebe felt gave her more options. While her current end-goal is to become a school counselor, she realizes that could change down the road, and she appreciates the flexibility the field offers. “You don’t just have to be a therapist. You can use it in life in so many different ways. That feels so freeing.”
Phoebe thanks VSAC for helping her navigate her first year of college — both her trusted VSAC counselor, Rose Reynolds, and the other supports available through VSAC’s GUIDE program, a federally funded program that extends GEAR UP’s financial support and academic counseling into a student’s first year of college.
“I’m following the GUIDE Instagram. They offer tips and tricks, and it’s run by people my age. When I read their posts, I know that they get it, that this person understands where I’m at right now. And the counselors send these check-in texts, asking ‘How are you doing today? Click this link if you need help with tutoring.’ Being ‘checked up on’ feels nice. I appreciate it.”
“And so many things are thanks to Rose,” Phoebe laughs — from her decision to stay in Vermont for school, to the financial opportunities and resources that have enabled her to complete her first year of college without dropping a single penny. “I want to see how far I can get without paying any money,” Phoebe says.
“Phoebe is very practical and very savvy,” Rose says, “and I love that about her. She deserves all the credit for showing up for herself, even in the middle of a pandemic. During that stressful time, Phoebe could have easily given up, but she reached out to VSAC, her school, her family, and her community to get to where she is today. She took what she learned from everyone around her, and she drew her own conclusions. That’s grit.”
For information on college and career planning and help with financial aid, go to www.vsac.org/FAFSAfirst and check out our online workshops and events. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and online at firstname.lastname@example.org.