Advice for First Generation College Applicants

The prospect of applying to colleges can be pretty intimidating for any student. But if you’re the first person in your family to attend college, your pride and excitement about heading off to school might be mixed with a good bit of anxiety. After all, unlike students who have college-educated parents or siblings, you don’t have the first-hand experience of your family to help ease your mind about the entire process of getting ready for and applying to college.

But just because you’re less familiar with the process doesn’t mean your college search shouldn’t go as smoothly as anyone else’s. Here are a few key pieces of advice to help you out along the way.

Start Early. Without the knowledge of their family to draw from, first-generation students simply have more of a learning curve when it comes to planning for college. So start thinking about college early on in high school to make sure you’re on track when it comes to taking the right classes and getting involved in extracurricular activities.

Meet With Your High School Counselor. First-generation students and their families usually aren’t as familiar with the ins and outs of actually applying to colleges. Your guidance counselor can help you along the way and make sure you hit important milestones and deadlines such as taking the SAT or ACT and applying for financial aid.

When Possible, Visit Campuses. Unlike students who may have visited the alma maters of their parents or siblings, first-generation students usually haven’t spent much time on college campuses. And while glossy college brochures and in-depth Web sites can paint a pretty good picture, nothing beats visiting the real thing. Many students say a visit to campus is the pivotal moment when choosing a college. Make sure you visit a variety of campuses to get an idea of what feels right to you big or small, public or private, far from home or local.

Involve Your Family. They might not know any more about getting into college than you do, but your family is still an important part of the college search process. And once you arrive on campus, they’ll be an important source of support as you adjust to the challenges of college life. So ask your family to get involved in your college search, whether it’s visiting campuses with you, helping fill out financial aid paperwork or giving your application one last proofreading. The more involved they are, the more they’ll feel a part of your decision and the more supportive they’ll be in the long run.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short. Many colleges and states offer merit aid programs for first generation students. You could get thousands of dollars in financial aid just by being a first generation student. So don’t think that any college is out of reach. To get financial aid you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid. For info on that form, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Remember That College is New for Every Freshman. One of the most important things you can keep in mind as a first-generation student is that college is a brand new experience for every freshman. Once you arrive on campus, the playing field levels everyone is in the same boat as they adjust to a new environment, new schedule, new friends and a new way of life. And really, that’s what the college experience is all about.