Anyone who has ever applied to a higher educational institution recently knows that the college admission process is complicated, confusing, and frustrating. Now, imagine that you are the first person in your family to have the opportunity to apply to college. Where do you start? What do you need to do? What do your parents need to do? Who can you ask for help?
While getting into college may seem overwhelming at first, many First Generation (FG) students and their families successfully navigate this journey to higher education by accessing a variety of resources that support them throughout this undertaking. Here are two key things that every FG student needs to do right now to make those college dreams a reality:
1) Find a mentor: The most successful people in life always credit their mentors for providing guidance and inspiration, and this is especially true for First Generation students. This person can be your school counselor, a trusted teacher, or someone else from your community who knows your abilities AND knows how college admission works. This mentor will be your cheerleader, believing in you even when you feel as if it’s all impossible.
Identify this person in your life, and work closely with them as you create your college list, complete the Common Application, and write your essay(s). Don’t know where to find a mentor? Check out the National Association for Admission Counseling’s website directory to find a College Access Program near you: http://casp.nacacnet.org/ . Here, you will be able to find people who specifically assist underserved populations get into college.
And if you feel like you’re imposing, know that you’re not - your mentor values this relationship as much as you do! Remember: someone once helped your mentor the way that s/he supports you now, and s/he feels great being able to pass it forward. Someday, you will, too!
2) Use online resources: Thanks to the internet, First Generation students may connect with each other and share advice on everything, from application planning checklists to where to look for scholarships and grants. For example, watch this collection of interviews with First Generation students talking about how they made it to college: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=34&v=UXsbnmPSaDc .
Become a part of these online communities to see that you are not alone, and that you can do this! Often, these websites also offer links to other helpful material, such as a guide for college terms for parents in Spanish. Check out http://www.firstinthefamily.org/highschool/Introduction.html and http://www.imfirst.org/#! to get started!
Doing these two steps will make a big difference in your college journey, and you’ll be empowered to be that education trailblazer in your family!
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Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent college consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.