21-year-old Erik Zetina has always enjoyed crime shows. So, after graduating from Carl Schurz High School in 2018, he decided to explore a future in the industry, starting with criminal justice courses at Wright College.

The campus was nearby his Portage Park home, making it easy to physically get to class—but Erik said he was dealing with a negative self-image at the time.

“People don’t realize what they can achieve,” he said. “Unfortunately, I was one of those people.”

Additionally, Erik’s income as a produce clerk wasn’t enough to cover the cost of his tuition, and he didn’t qualify for financial aid. He figured the only option was to push pause on his education, and, as a result, he was left with debt from his classes.

A few years later, after becoming a father, Erik was motivated to go back to school to set an example for his son. That’s when a friend told him about City Colleges’ new Future Ready initiative, which offers short-term programs to eligible Chicagoans at no cost. Because Erik had been out of class for more than two semesters, he qualified for the opportunity and saw that Wright was offering a basic certificate program in Criminal Justice: Public Police Services through Future Ready.

As he enrolled, Wright College Advisor ​George Baird informed Erik that he would also qualify for CCC’s Fresh Start debt forgiveness program. Not only would Erik be able to take a semester’s worth of courses for free, but his debt from his previous classes would be forgiven, too.

“For me, Future Ready and Fresh Start were blessings,” he said. “I was originally scared to go back to school, but all it takes is one step.”

He enrolled in the 16-week criminal justice program, earning his basic certificate in December 2021.

Additionally, now that he’s back in the classroom, Erik said he plans to continue his education. Because he completed his Future Ready program, he now qualifies for financial aid, which will help cover the cost of his associate degree.

After that, Erik hopes to transfer to a four-year university to earn his bachelor’s degree in ballistic forensic science. The “one step” he took to get back into school has turned into an entirely new outlook on his future.

“For new parents like me or anyone else out there, Future Ready makes it possible to further your education,” he said.

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