Many fast-food chains like McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Burger King and KFC offer college scholarships to employees. Some even go a step further, offering tuition assistance to the families of employees and even to the public.
Summertime for college students means time to recuperate from all-nighters and stressful exams, unwinding poolside with friends or binge-watching their favorite shows.
Sophomore Theresa McKone is not one of them.
Although she lives where emerald green water meet white sand beaches, McKone chooses to spend each of her college breaks working full-time as a manager at McDonald's in Bluewater Bay.
"I've been working at McDonald's since I was 14," said McKone, who attends the University of Mississippi. "I found out that McDonald's offers a scholarship through the company telling us about it. I applied last summer for the upcoming school year and received a scholarship."
Many fast-food chains like McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Burger King and KFC offer college scholarships to employees. Some even offer tuition assistance to the families of employees and even to the public.
McDonald's announced June 1 that crew members could now earn $2,500 in tuition assistance, up from $700 last year. Managers can earn $3,000, up from $1,500.
Joann Wickham, human resource manager for Costa Enterprises — which owns 20 Northwest Florida McDonald's — said employees qualify for scholarships after only three months of employment.
"To offer our team members something like this, to help them accomplish their academic goals, is why we're all here," Wickham said. "This money comes directly from the McDonald's Corporation."
In Milton, Savina Walters is another student taking advantage of a fast-food scholarship. Walters, who is studying to be a dental hygienist at Pensacola State College, said she began working at Burger King when she was 16 years old.
"I was so scared when I first started because you always hear of fast-food horror stories," Walters said. "I ended up really enjoying the job. It made me really happy."
Walters, who earns $1,000 each year in tuition assistance, said she was surprised when she applied for the scholarship and heard back right away that she was accepted.
"I was so happy when I was accepted because, here I was working at this job that I really like, and now I get a scholarship for it," Walters said. "I want people to know that the fast-food industry may seem really scary, but if you stick with it your company will help you."
Burger King, according to Amanda Israel, executive director of the scholarship foundation, gives away many scholarships each year in honor of the founder's passion for education.
"It was established in 2000 as a way of investing in deserving students in our community," Israel said. "The founder went to Cornell University and realized rather quickly that the cost would be overwhelming. He worked to get scholarships to pay for his education."
Burger King offers a general award of $1,000, and the top-ranking employees in the United States receive $5,000. Children of employees can also apply for scholarships.
"Our scholarships have a multi-generational affect," Israel said.
Debra Davis, a junior at Pensacola Christian College, also recognized an opportunity in the fast-food industry and ran with it.
Since the 2016 school year, Davis has racked up $20,000 in scholarships from Taco Bell, both through employee scholarships and those open to the public.
"People should really open their eyes to all of the scholarships out there," Davis said. "There are some Taco Bell provides, and you don't even have to work there. Just put yourself out there and apply.
"If you're passionate about what you do, you can get it."