UPDATE: UK student is Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway Runner-Up

Junior biology and animal science double major Rachel Hughes won $20,000.

UPDATED STORY POSTED DECEMBER 7, 2021 AT 6:00 P.M.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – University of Kentucky student Rachel Hughes is one step closer to her dream of attending veterinary school.

All that practicing paid off: University of Kentucky junior Rachel Hughes is this year’s SEC Championship Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway runner-up, winning a total of $20,000.

“It was so unreal. I was disappointed that I didn’t win for like, 2 seconds. But then I was like, ‘I just won $20,000,” said Hughes.

After qualifying for the halftime competition in Friday’s preliminary round, it was down to two people: Hughes and Duke University student Hayden Rhodea, though Hughes says she wasn’t nervous.

“I really wasn’t nervous at all, like everything leading up to it. Nothing could’ve compared to how nervous I was on Friday,” said Hughes.

Rhodea went won $100,000 at the halftime competition. But Bryce Dexter, Hughes’ boyfriend, says he’s proud of her hard work.

“I was just sitting there watching the whole time, camera out, front row, I got to brag on her, everyone was asking me, ‘do you know one of those people?’ I was like ‘oh, yeah’ it’s pretty crazy,’ said Dexter.

Hughes plans to start applying to veterinary schools with the hopes of beginning classes in the fall of 2023.

“I’m excited, I have a lot of experience under my belt now, I’m just looking forward to it. Obviously, it doesn’t mean I can stop working at any point but I think that I hopefully have a pretty good chip on my shoulder to get me going,” said Hughes.

Hughes submitted a TikTok video to the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, and was one of 15 finalists selected to compete at the SEC Championship game.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED ON DECEMBER 1, 2021 AT 8:55 P.M.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – One University of Kentucky student is getting a very special opportunity.

Richmond native and University of Kentucky junior Rachel Hughes submitted a TikTok video in October to the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway about her goal of going to veterinary school and her passion for animals.

Hughes says she then received a Direct Message on TikTok from Dr. Pepper telling her that she was being considered as a finalist. She later received a second Direct Message requesting that she fill out contact information.

“I got a phone call that night saying that I was selected for the SEC Championship game. It was such a surreal moment getting that phone call. I had a feeling when I got that second DM that I’d be going somewhere, but it was still crazy,” said Hughes.

Hughes says she loves training service and therapy dogs to help kids with illness and trauma, dreaming of merging her two passions someday.

“My goal is to become a practicing veterinarian and open a facility for rescues to become trained therapy dogs…I’ve seen firsthand the health benefits that dogs can provide…I want to pair my love of training dogs with my passion to assist kids dealing with illness and trauma,” Hughes said in her TikTok submission video.

Hughes says she’s always dreamed of being a veterinarian.

“I’ve wanted to go to vet school ever since I was like, 8, 9 years old. I was one of those kids that wanted to go to vet school and never changed my mind,” said Hughes.

Hughes was chosen as one of 15 finalists through the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, and she and her boyfriend are headed to Atlanta this weekend. There, she’ll compete in Friday’s preliminary competition. If she’s one of the top two from Friday, she’ll compete during halftime at the SEC Championship on Saturday.

“You have 30 footballs in 30 seconds to throw as many as you can into a makeshift 9-foot Dr. Pepper can with, like, a 2-foot opening,” said Hughes.

As a finalist, Hughes has already won $2,500, but if she advances to the halftime competition and wins, she’ll receive $100,000 in scholarship money.

“It would be just a crazy amount to help towards vet school because it’s just outrageously expensive. Anything at this point–any amount will be something helpful to go towards that goal,” said Hughes.

Hughes has been hard at work practicing. She says her dad helped build her a practice course, and her boyfriend Bryce Dexter has helped her work on her form.

“I’ve seen her practice pretty consistently, pretty well, so I have high hopes, high hopes. I don’t think she’ll let anybody down, I think she’s going to do pretty well,” said Dexter.

Dr. Pepper is flying Hughes and Dexter to Atlanta on Thursday, and Hughes says all their accommodations for the weekend have been paid for by the company.

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