Success Stories

Closing the Gap: Emily Mateo Makes the Most of Time Away From School

Emily Mateo’s story is like that of so many college freshmen who arrive on campus only to find the environment isn’t a fit.

As a student at the U.S. Military Academy, she realized the path to her dream career as a neurosurgeon would be better achieved through a civilian route. So, she’s transferring to Binghamton University to focus on integrative neuroscience in the fall and spending this spring taking a gap semester at home in the Bronx.

Though it reunites Mateo with her family, whom she says is a vital support system, it’s a potentially costly delay in terms of time, money and remaining on track to graduate. She’s making it work though, with help of Modern States’ NYC x Freshman Year for Free (NYC x FYFF) program.

“I just wasn’t the happiest, and I’m someone who values my happiness and I want to be somewhere where I feel good,” Mateo said in an interview of her decision to transfer from West Point after completing basic training. “I’m taking this time to take CLEP exams, to build up those credits I need so that I don’t fall behind.”

Mateo was introduced to NYC x FYFF through her affiliated high school, The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology. The program offers students from select New York City public schools and TheDream.US scholars the chance to earn college credit — and cash — by taking our free online courses and passing the corresponding College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams offered by the College Board. CLEP is a program that’s been in place for more than 60 years, and more than 2,900 colleges and universities, including Binghamton, accept passing CLEP scores as credits.

$400 Incentive

Modern States, a philanthropy, sweetens the incentive by covering the exam and test center fees, and giving NYC x FYFF students at least $150 for each exam they pass. In Mateo’s case, she completed College Algebra and took advantage of our limited-time offer of $400 for earning a passing score on her CLEP exam, having previously completed our Spanish Language course.

“I just got the email that I should be expecting a check in 8-10 weeks,” she said. “It was definitely a motivation because I do need the extra funds, but my academics are really important to me and it was a perfect time, as I might be a little behind on credits.”

Mateo plans to take more NYC x FYFF classes this spring to keep on track and estimates she’ll receive more than $500 in cash, save hundreds more in CLEP fees and save at least $3,000 in credits that will transfer to Binghamton.

“If there wasn’t money involved, I still would have completed the courses,” she said.

A volleyball player and lover of Dominican food and cooking, Mateo’s greatest passion is medicine.

“I’m very interested in the brain, but I have so much to learn,” she said.

Mateo recently began volunteering at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, helping patients of all ages and backgrounds with whatever they need, and acting as a Spanish to English interpreter.

“I’ll hopefully become a surgeon at some point,” Mateo said. “It’s a hard, tough road and a lot of people have told me many things, but I’m motivated, and I know that’s what I want for my life.”

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