Applying to college can seem like a time-consuming and daunting endeavor, especially for families going through the process for the first time. Thankfully, you’re not alone. In our work with first-generation college students and their families at College Forward, we have navigated some tricky situations and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Here are just a few things we’ve learned on how families can make the application process smoother for themselves and their students:
- Work to understand financial aid and scholarships.
There are several financial aid programs available for students, but not all of these are created equally. Research the financial aid packages your students receive and know what you are accepting before you commit. As a parent, pay particular attention to Parent PLUS loans. Although they offer favorable terms, PLUS loans require parents to start repayments while their students are enrolled.
- Ask lots of questions!
Advocate for yourself and your student. Get to know your student’s college/career counselors and do not be afraid to call your student’s financial aid office, even if you do not speak English. There is always someone on staff who can help.
- Don’t be afraid of student loans.
The average college student in America takes out over $25,000 in loans throughout their college career. While debt is always a serious commitment, it should not prevent families from using loans to invest in their student’s education. Think of educational loans as investments–students who graduate with degrees have access to increased opportunities, better-paying jobs, and earn more over the course of their lifetimes. Generally speaking the fewer loans the better, but don’t rule them out as a way to support your student’s education.
- Know you’re not alone.
There are several programs, resources, and organizations aimed specifically at working with and coaching first-generation college students and their families. Many college or university campuses also have specific programs or offices dedicated to supporting first-generation college students.
- Support your student.
Sending your child to college is a big deal. You’re going to miss them and there’s no way around that, but be careful not to let your own worries overshadow what your child is going through. A college degree is a big deal too, and a goal and accomplishment to celebrate. Support your student by being curious about the application process, asking questions about what schools he/she is applying to and listening to his/her own wishes and worries.
About Austin Buchan
Austin joined College Forward in April 2010 after serving as Program Manager and Community Organizer for the Solentiname Solidarity Alliance, a non-profit organization in rural Nicaragua. While in Nicaragua, Austin helped develop and implement a college preparation and persistence program for highly motivated, low income students. Apart from his non-profit work, Austin has experience in managing and organizing national political campaigns in Boston, MA and Boulder, CO. Austin served as College Persistence Program Manager from 2010-2011, served on College Forward’s special initiatives team. Beginning in 2013, Austin served as Chief of Staff, driving strategic initiatives by monitoring progress towards goals and benchmarks, analyzing data, and sustaining the momentum needed to drive College Forward’s initiatives. Austin assumed the position of Executive Director for College Forward in July of 2015.
College Forward Mission:
College Forward coaches underserved, motivated students to achieve the benefits of higher education and a college degree.