CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND YOUR PATH TO COLLEGE?

My name is Ngina Chege and I am currently pursuing a Liberal Studies degree at Holy Cross College. I am originally from Kiambu, Kenya, arrived in America at the age of eight, and have resided in South Bend, Indiana, for fourteen years now. My path to college was somewhat challenging, as there were many decisions I had to make on my own. I knew that my family expected me to attend college, but topics related to college were minimally discussed growing up. When my junior year of high school came around, I found myself overwhelmed trying to figure out exactly what steps were needed to attend college.

My family encouraged my desire to pursue higher education, but they were not able to guide me through the process due to their lack of experience. Growing up I frequently translated and explained documents for my family due to my proficiency in English. Similarly, I knew my family expected me to attend college, succeed, and assist my younger siblings in time. I figured that my journey into college was not exclusively for my sake, but for my family's sake as well.

After submitting applications, I was accepted into Holy Cross College and Indiana University of South Bend. Although I faced many challenges in the beginning, as a second semester junior in college now, I am glad I had resolve, never giving in on my dreams of attending college.

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST DIFFICULTIES YOU FACED IN THE COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS?

Researching programs and majors that matched my interests was the most difficult part of the application process. I knew what I felt passionate about, but when it came time to match those aspirations to specific classes or certain program majors, it became frustrating.

I would advise students who are in the process of applying to college to take tours of the colleges they are interested in. This will give prospective students a chance to meet with advisers for the specific programs that interest them. The one-on-one conversations with advisers could significantly impact the evaluation of whether or not the classes and programs offered at specific colleges are in line with prospective students' career goals.

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT SCHOLARSHIPS OR RESOURCES TO HELP YOU PAY FOR COLLEGE?

I discovered scholarships and resources to help pay for college through the career center at my high school, where I attended workshops that provided information about how to apply for financial aid and scholarships. Often local college advisers would attend the sessions, and this allowed me to ask questions about scholarships specific to the institutions they represented.

I also sought job opportunities that advertised educational benefits like scholarships, tuition reimbursement, or tuition coverage for classes related to the business function of the employer. I knew that I would have to work and attend school simultaneously, and it was important for me to work for organizations that contributed to my educational goals.

In addition, I would advise students and their parents to think outside of the box when it comes to financing their college education. I would encourage them not to limit themselves to the resources provided at their specific high schools, but to also seek resources in their communities. Academic programs such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound are great examples of programs that equip students with the knowledge and empowerment needed when navigating through the college application process. There are many amazing counselors and advisers, but thinking outside of the box forces students to become their own advocates, and in my experience that is the most important skill needed upon entering college.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

The cost of college is a major factor in deciding which college to attend, often discouraging students, especially those already struggling financially, from applying. As tuition costs increase, student debt is also on the rise, which functions as a deterrent for many prospective and current college students.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

The cost of a college education can become a tremendous burden without proper planning. Parents should not wait until their children are in high school to begin thinking about what options are available to them. It is important to have conversations early, so that the students know what is expected of them, and the role they will play in financing and finding options for financing their education.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Successfully pursuing and attaining higher education is one of the most effective ways to cross class barriers, but the financial aspects associated with the pursuit of higher education are often barriers. One main roles of a university should be to provide guidance to students who are struggling to pay for college. Providing students with information about resources available to them can make a big difference, because it may be their first time being financially responsible for themselves. Simply setting aside the time to inform students of the various options that are available can make all the difference to a student.

LAST THOUGHTS?

College is challenge to navigate alone, and I hope that students gain the confidence to become their own advocates by asking questions. This can be difficult, especially for first generation and low income students. I would inform struggling students to ask questions, and that neither feeling overwhelmed by the decisions that arise during the process before college, nor the hardships experienced in college, are a reflection of their abilities to succeed. Once students understand their motivations, they will learn that there is always a community of individuals willing to guide and support them in their journey.

Ngina Chege

Student at Holy Cross College

Ngina Chege is a junior at Holy Cross College majoring in liberal studies with a pre-law concentration. Born in Kiambu, Kenya, Ngina has called Indiana her home since the age of eight and is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. In addition to completing bachelor's coursework, Ngina is currently an intern with the University of Notre Dame's TRiO Programs department, where she works to assist first generation and/or low-income, high school students as they pursue their goal of college enrollment and graduation. Ngina is also employed part time at Wells Fargo, where she has served for more than two years. Her prior employment and volunteer experiences include working with the CASA Program, serving as a court appointed special advocate to represent abused and neglected children, and experiences with St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and Holy Cross College. In the summer of 2017 Ngina also participated in a Global Immersion Experience in Peru, where she taught English and learned and embraced Peruvian culture. Ngina hopes to attend graduate school after completing her bachelor's degree.