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Tyler Ballard is on a path to change civic discourse.
Tyler Ballard's goals are big, and so are his accomplishments. He is currently a first-year graduate student at Brown University in the political science Ph.D. program, specializing in American politics.
Tyler has committed himself to a career focused on policy.
“My goals have been focused on law and politics,” Tyler says. “My current track is going to be academics or the private sector. Ideally, I would like to be a policy advisor or lobbyist in the education field.”
Tyler grew up in Poultney and attended Poultney High School. While he is now on a steady trajectory toward a future in higher education or public policy, his path was by no means straightforward.
“Initially I was planning on going to my first-choice school, Elmira College. My heart was set on it. I was determined to go,” he remembers.
This decision changed rapidly when the reality of the finances kicked in during the summer before the start of the academic year.
“At the end of July, I found out I would owe $15,000 to $20,000 for the academic year. I was 17 at the time. There was no way I could get a loan to Elmira, so I decided last minute to attend Northern Vermont University,” he relates.
In his first semester, Tyler realized that the school wasn’t the right fit for his career goals. He ended up moving home and studying at Castleton University, which he credits as critical to his professional career and research exposure.
“I got work on data collection and analysis for a Vermont Historical Society project aiming to gauge how well informed Vermonters were about their own history,” he says.
The research and writing skills that Tyler relies on in his Ph.D. program now were fostered by his academic advisor and mentor at Castleton.
“Having Rich Clark as an advisor was incredibly helpful. I got a lot out of working with him,” Tyler states. “Getting to write with his assistant was very important, very critical in my professional development.” He adds.
Also critical to Tyler was the support he received at a young age from VSAC. He found the college application process daunting, including, as he notes, “the personal essay, how to go about putting together a strong college application, setting deadlines to get the SAT done, and applying for scholarships.”
With the seasoned counselors’ help, Tyler found the process became clearer.
“It was learning how to put the pieces together to even go in the first place that I found so crucial about the program. You can't go if you're not ready to go,” he says.
Even as a child, Tyler knew that finances would be the hardest part of reaching his goal to attend college.
“I was dead set on college forever, but I always knew money was going to be a barrier,” he admits.
Tyler credits VSAC with making college possible.
“I wouldn't have been able to get into college without financial help from VSAC. I met with my advisor one-on-one a lot to discuss funding,” he relates.
Looking back now on the stress of finances during undergraduate study, Tyler shared the struggle of balancing schoolwork with the burden of debt.
“That was the biggest challenge,” he says, but explains that with help from VSAC, “even when I was writing my senior thesis, I felt comfortable—even though the workload was the highest it had ever been. It was just really busy for me. I didn’t get much time to sit back and take it all in.”
He notes that things have gotten easier with time.
“I would say that the financial aspect has somewhat lessened since entering the master's program. I get a livable stipend now, which has given me an incredible opportunity to focus on the work,” he allows.
His advice to students considering college?
“If you feel like going to college, setting yourself up early is important. Time is an invaluable resource that you can't get back.”
Need help with pursuing your career goals and education needs? VSAC is here to help you. Serving our community is at the heart of all we do. During this ever-changing time, we remain available and committed to help you navigate all your career and education needs.
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. For an update of how we can help during the COVID-19 crisis, click here. 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. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch. We’re here for you.