The college application season is always a busy and nerve wrecking one. Deadline after deadline and essay after essay have to be done. It is a lot of work and responsibility. First-generation students do not have a big help system at home because they are the first in their family to go to college. Unlike second or third generation students, their parents do not know what the application process is like. Which can cause the students to struggle with the application process and have to rely on outside help.
“The college application process can be ambiguous and scary. These students don’t have parents that are helping them read through all the fine print and multiple number of documents and emails that are coming their way,” Maria Arvizu-Rodriguez, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Educational Opportunity Program counselor said.
Q&A with Cal Poly SLO First-Generation Students
- How was the college application process like for you?
- What was the support and/or resources that you had?
- What is your advice for students who will be the first in their family?
Alvaro Perez, First-Year, Aerospace Engineering major
- “My parents didn’t know there was such thing as going through the college application process. They didn’t know you had to apply for financial aid or just how college works. Once I got acceptance letters my parents tried to convince me to stay in Sacramento. They didn’t understand why I wanted to go five hours away to San Luis Obispo.”
- “I was in programs in high school that helped first-generation students apply to college, fill out the applications and the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). My brothers and sisters were a big support. My counselor would have workshops once a week since the beginning of my senior year during a one hour slot time. I didn’t do it at home because I didn’t know what to do, how to write it or what they were actually asking for.”
- “Apply everywhere, don’t let the college application process scare you away. Just apply to where you want to go. If you really want to do it, then do it. Look for resources cause there is at least one program that will help first generation students with the application process.”
Magali Silva, First-Year, Economics major
- “My mom would throw away my college mail. My parents think it’s a waste of time for me to come to college. They think I should be working and supporting them.”
- “My avid teacher would make me do my college applications homework style. I started the college application process my junior year and I applied to nine colleges. Family wise the only support I have is my brother, he is the only that wants me to be here. My avid teacher and my brother were my main support.”
- “Don’t care about other people’s opinions. It’s your life, you’re going to have to deal with it and they are going to get over it eventually. So if you want to go to college, go to college.”
Rachel Scales, First-Year, Modern Languages and Literatures major
- “I had no idea what made a school a good fit or a bad fit, or how to go about applying for financial aid, or what to do as a major. Like, nobody knows how to do this, and you’re trying to crack the code.”
- “I contacted the schools I was interested in, like, ten times a week with questions. A couple of the schools actually started knowing me. For financial aid help, my social worker hooked me up with the Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP) in San Francisco, and they were fantastic. They helped me find scholarships, and they’d go over scholarship essays with me, and they helped me do the FAFSA.”
- “Don’t be deterred from applying to certain schools. It’s not as hard to get into schools as you think. I thought I wouldn’t get in to half my schools. Apply to schools you don’t think you’ll get in to. Pretty much every school has fee waivers available, too, so no worries.”
Once the college application season is over, the time comes to choose where to go. These students chose Cal Poly SLO. The transition can be difficult because it is a very unfamiliar territory.
Arvizu-Rodriguez recommends support programs similar to the Summer Institute program at Cal Poly that provide transition assistant from the minute they are admitted till the end of their first year.
The opportunities and the help is out there for first-generation college students. It is a matter of finding it and doing what is best for them.
Important links for when applying to college: