Applying to a college is one thing and applying for financial aid is another. It is very important for first-generation students and other low-income students to apply for financial aid because it could be the only source of funding they have to pay for college. Just like the college application the Free Application for Student Aid is tedious. Which is why Alltuition is very helpful and can come in handy to go through that application process. Here are 7 reasons why:
If you’ve read the “About” section on this blog you know that I myself am a first-generation and low-income college student.
A goal of mine for this blog is to focus on the experiences of other students on each post but this post will be an exception because as a change I will be talking about my experience. I will touch on several past posts and add how I personally relate to the topic.
Going away from home for the first time is a big step in life. It takes a good reason to do it. For first-generation students and many other college students that reason is college. Some students choose to stay close and go to college near their home or commute. But others have to travel miles to a new city with new people, places and surroundings. It is saying goodbye to everything they have ever known. But it’s worth it because they are going away to pursue and education.
College can be a scary and confusing place. Having a support system on campus is important. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and at every other California State University there is the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). EOP is under Cal Poly’s Student Academic Services which provides educational resources to students that can help them succeed.Students can apply for EOP after they finish applying to the CSU(s) (including Cal Poly SLO) of their choice . Part of the criteria to be eligible for EOP is to be an “educational disadvantaged student” or first-generation student and be low-income.
Once a student is accepted into the EOP program then they become connected with their EOP advisor. It helps them transition from high school to college and gives them support throughout their college years. There are six advisors, one for each college at Cal Poly. The slideshow below gives an insight look at a day in Cal Poly’s EOP offices.
Click on the first picture to start the slideshow.
“We want to ensure that the student does not just get admitted but are successful so they are able to obtain their degree. As advisors we really care about our students we want to ensure that they are utilizing us not just for academic advising but sometimes if there’s personal issues it’s always good for them to know that there will always be someone that will be able to listen to you” – Jose Millan, EOP Academic Advisor for the College of Engineering.
“As a first-generation student it is even harder because you don’t know what to expect so having someone you can come to with any question is the best part of EOP.” – Katie Ellis, EOP Academic Advisor for the College of Liberal Arts said.
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:
The road to college can be a tough one. An article in The Atlantic touches upon how difficult it can to be the first in the family to attend college and an article on Cleveland.com talks about the financial challenge for low-income students.
Even though college is new to any first-time freshman, adjusting to it is more difficult for a first generation, low income student. This can be for a few reasons:
- struggling with social integration
- academically behind
- live at home or off-campus
- financially challenged
Being a first generation student comes with challenges. Their help system is smaller than those who are of second or third generation. They face more financial challenges because they are of a low income.
Going to a public high school doesn’t put out in the open the challenges students have except academic based challenges But in college the challenges for first-generation students can be more noticeable. Students from low-income backgrounds are not as well off as their college peers who are second, third generation or of a higher income. Because of the difference it is harder to connect and be social with peers. That leads to trying to find a niche, people with similar backgrounds.
The expenses that come with college are harder to fulfill. Access to a college education is now not difficult to attain but the costs are a bigger barrier for a first-generation, low-income student. They need help to make their education more affordable.
The challenges can pose a threat to their possibility of graduating.
Organizations like One Goal focus on helping first-generation students get to graduation.
The opportunities and the support is there but the challenges are harder to overcome. Mentoring, college programs and organizations can help students overcome those challenges and make it more possible for them to graduate.
On Saturday January 11, 2014, Cal Poly MEXA, hosted its annual Xicano Youth Conference. Each year the conference welcomes first-generation underrepresented high school students, counselors and parents to spend the day at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, learn from workshops and interact with current first-generation college students.
“Often times these students don’t have a role model to follow and that might discourage them from considering a higher education as an option,” XYC Coordinator Jessica Ordonez said.
The workshops touch on topics that help the high school students learn of the different opportunities and possibilities available to them. First-generation students can see college as a stretch due to struggles in school and financial issues like Skyler Lopez did when he was a senior at Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon.
Students from high schools in Bakersfield, Santa Maria, Paso Robles and Ventura attended the conference.
The theme for this year’s conference was “We Have a Dream.” Students were able to write their goals or dreams on a whiteboard and take a picture with it.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Navarro, an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“Dreams stay in the imagination if you don’t start to plan, when you start to plan, dreams turn into goals,” Navarro told students. “Dreams require to imagine, to imagine potential.”
The students then attended three out of the nine workshops:
- College Survival 101
- Educational Opportunity Program 101
- Financial Aid
- You are the environment
- Positive Discipline for Parents
- Is college your next step?
- LEGO Team-Building
- Personal Statement/Scholarship Essay Writing
Current first-generation Cal Poly SLO students also gave the students a guided tour of the campus.
Benito Salas is currently a senior at East Bakersfield High School and has just finished applying to colleges.
“I would like to get accepted to Fresno State or San Diego State because they have good Criminal Justice programs and that is what I plan on majoring in,” Salas said.
He would like to be part of the California Highway Patrol.
“I’ve been on the road with my dad, who’s a truck driver, I’ve seen how it was and it kind of interested me at first and the more I researched about it the more it hit me,” Salas said.
Sandra Garcia a student from Paso Robles High School already has in mind what she is
looking for in a college.
“I’m planning to be the first to graduate in my family and I want to attend a smaller college than Fresno State and stay close to my family. I like Cal Poly SLO and I would like to study something in agriculture,” Garcia said.
Being first-generation influences the goals of Esmeralda Cruz, a student from East Bakersfield High School.
“Being a first-generation inspires me even more and it’s a lot of pressure on me. I know that it will make my family proud. Also would make my mom extremely proud for me to go further in life and not let anything stop me from doing what I need to do to be successful. It also inspires me to be a good role model for my brother and my cousins that look up to me,” Cruz said.
Ruben Tellez, a student from East Bakersfield High School, hopes to attend Cal Poly SLO. “On the Internet, I’ve researched Cal Poly and it’s a great school for me,” Tellez said. He would like to major in engineering and/or architecture.
“I think that education is the only way to get ahead in life,” Ordonez said. “By putting on these type of events, we hope to make higher education a more realistic dream for underrepresented students.”