Why Scholarships Matter

By Courtney Brown | Illustration by Mickey Velarde

Courtney Brown, UT Knoxville '23, speaks to high school students about her personal experiences as a UT Promise scholarship recipient.

Courtney Brown (Knoxville '23)

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It’s not often a person can point to one event that changes her life, but I can.

On a warm September day during my senior year of high school, I was sitting outside eating lunch and mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. Then I saw an advertisement for the UT Promise Scholarship offering “free tuition and fees at any University of Tennessee college for students under a certain income.”

This caught my attention.

I debated clicking on the link. “It’s too good to be true,” I thought. Followed by, “This may give my device a virus.”

But I decided to take a chance.

That decision sent my life on a path I never dreamed of.

For me, college wasn’t a given. I am a first-generation college student.

I wasn’t going to apply to a four-year school. I thought that I couldn’t afford it, so what was the point?

I originally planned to get my associate degree and then, hopefully, move on to a four-year college to finish my bachelor’s degree. If I could afford it. That seemed like a big if. Yet, I knew I wanted more for myself. I was determined to work hard and pave my own way.

I’ve never been happier that something didn’t go as planned.

The same day I found the advertisement, I applied for the UT Promise Scholarship. I also filled out the applications for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

About a week later, I was accepted to both schools.

Months later, my mother and I sat and cried together as we discussed the future—one we never knew was possible for me—as we reviewed my pro-and-con list weighing UT Chattanooga and UT Knoxville.

We decided that day, I would attend UT Knoxville.

As a low-income person, you don’t always get choices. A lot of times you have to take what you can afford or what you’re given. The freedom of choice is powerful, and the UT Promise Scholarship gave that to me. I graduated a semester early in December 2023.

Through the years, I’ve learned not to be ashamed of being a low-income, first-generation college student because at UT Knoxville I’ve done everything a higher-income student can. I just had scholarships to help
me do it.

In Neyland Stadium, I screamed and cheered for the Vols. At the Tombras School for Advertising and Public Relations, I discovered a career about which I am deeply passionate. At Laurel Hall, I learned who I was.

The UT Promise Scholarship created the proudest alumna and allowed me the choice to improve myself.

Courtney Brown

Courtney Brown graduated in December 2023 with a B.S. in Communications, Public Relations from UT Knoxville. She interned with the UT System Division of Communications and Marketing.