A Letter From The Editor

Stephanie Snider

Director

At BestColleges.com, we are consistently reminded that every student's college experience is unique, and that some students face a distinctly difficult path. Studies have found that less than 10% of foster kids graduate from college, around 14% of community college students are homeless, 30% of all incoming freshman are the first in their families to go to college, and 26% of undergraduates are raising dependent children. While all of these students face different challenges throughout their academic journeys, most of them share a common experience – a story of support.

Support can be emotional, physical, financial, academic, or spiritual, and when it comes to education, support in all its forms is one of the greatest influencers of student success. But what happens to the students who do not have a support system at home, school, or work? For every student in the studies above, there are many more who never made it to college, or who didn't even believe they could apply. Lack of support is one of the greatest roadblocks to education, affecting all demographics of students. Without emotional encouragement, advice from knowledgeable resources, and physical and financial support, getting through college becomes a much harder challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

Educators, colleges, high schools, families, community groups, non-profit organizations, and college planning sites need to engage with this issue on a deeper level. Simply providing facts about the application process is not enough. We need to teach these students what it truly takes to succeed, where to find the support resources they need to get there, and perhaps most importantly, that they have someone who believes in them and in their academic goals.

To better explore this issue, we gathered a diverse group of individuals from colleges, non-profit organizations, and those with personal experience to talk with us about the importance of a strong support system throughout the college application process. Each interview provides unique insight into how support fits within the framework of education; what roles a parent, school, mentor, and community should play in aiding their students; and crucial advice for students to help them achieve their academic goals. The takeaway? We want to inspire you to continue this dialogue and support someone's college dreams in your community.

Student Support Articles

Scroll through the interviews below to learn more about the vital role support plays in the college application process. Each panelist also provides actionable advice for individuals looking to attend college.

Table of Contents 1 Ethan Zagore, Director of TRiO Programs, University of Notre Dame

Table of Contents

1 Ethan Zagore, Director of TRiO Programs, University of Notre Dame

Receiving support from parents, other relatives, friends, and school representatives such as teachers, counselors, coaches, and high-level administrators are all critical in the ultimate success of students as they begin to enter the initial stages of considering college, complete applications, and ultimately transition to college.

By Ethan Zagore Director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame
Learn more about Ethan Zagore

People often talk about accessibility for first generation students; how important do you think support is for all students?

Receiving support from parents, other relatives, friends, and school representatives such as teachers, counselors, coaches, and high-level administrators are all critical in the ultimate success of students as they begin to enter the initial stages of considering college, complete applications, and ultimately transition to college. The difference between the quality of support a first generation student with a desire to attend college will receive, and those that are not first generation, is vital in comprehending the issue of college access.

First generation students could have supporting parents, but if neither successfully navigated the college process resulting in college completion, there is no “first-hand” knowledge of the obstacles associated with attending college, and more importantly, how to create a path around said obstacles. Parents of first generation students can educate themselves about the journey associated with graduating from college, but there is no substitute for personally completing the process themselves; a luxury that those with college educated parents enjoy.

What forms of support do you think are most often missing?

Even for an adult attempting to conquer a new endeavor, such as training to run a marathon or deciding to pursue a higher level of education as a 'non-traditional student', having a wide-ranging and engaged support system is imperative.

Successfully navigating the college application process is not easy for any student, as the commitment of time, components and length of college applications can vary. However, for first generation and/or low income students, application fees can provide financial barriers. Additional hurdles, such as having access to a computer and/or the internet at home, can derail the momentum necessary to complete the process. Therefore, varying forms of support from multiple people in the support system, at any given time, is truly needed to overcome said obstacles, from a parent sacrificing financially to purchase the internet at home, to a counselor providing an application fee waiver.

What does good support look like to you?

From a parent or guardian?

Parents and guardians should verbally express the importance of attending college early in the academic career of their student, financially set aside resources to assist in the process of attending college (including standardized testing and application fees), and allot time to pinpoint academic programs that complement in-school education (the earlier the better!).

From a mentor?

Mentors should provide realistic advice, yet still encourage their mentee to push the limits of their academic potential. Additionally, mentors can identify educational resources to prepare students for college and introduce mentees to their professional network of peers, providing an environment of successful individuals around their mentee.

From a community?

Every community member, regardless of the level of their educational attainment, income, race or religion, should be verbally encouraging to students. The future of the community depends on the success of the next generation of students.

From a school?

School representatives must first successfully complete the defined roles of their position with intentionality, but should look for opportunities to congratulate students for their accomplishments, no matter how small. In addition, school representatives should also identify external resources to assist students, which can result in making their jobs easier and giving students more support.

How can the overall community attitude towards education affect a student's college aspirations?

Psychologically, a community with a history of high school students bypassing college can harm the next generation of potential college attendees. Therefore, in communities with said history, high schools, churches, community centers, and more must encourage their high school students to attend college by communicating resources available to aid students in towards attending college, and creating policies and events that encourage college attendance (i.e. inviting local admissions representatives to attend a session after church). Of similar importance, members of the community must verbally express to youth the benefits of attending college, and that they believe their youth can not only enroll in college, but graduate.

For students who don't have the traditional parent/guardian role or figure in their life where can they turn?

Students must be proactive in approaching members of the community that can assist them in attending college. Examples reach far beyond dedicated school counselors and inspiring teachers, and include members of their extended family and family friends that have graduated from college, community members that work in fields where possessing a college degree in required, and specialized programs that help students identify college options, complete applications and enroll in college (i.e. TRiO programs).

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

Very simply, students should approach teachers, counselors and other identified resources alone. Some students might not want to broadcast to the world that they are strongly considering college, due to peer pressure or even unsupportive family members. Speaking with a teacher between class, visiting a counselor during lunch or after school, or even disclosing to a coach or after school club advisor are viable methods more private students can utilize to get help without feeling embarrassed or afraid. In addition, students should also conduct research on which postsecondary institutions are appropriate for them, as often the possession of knowledge can validate the desire of attending college.

What is the role of a high school when providing support to students who may be struggling?

Many high school counselors, teachers, and other administrators are inundated with multiple issues that can detract them from giving every student the necessary 'face time' to assist with college applications. To ease the burden, high school personnel must make it a priority to locate external resources that can assist students with activities required to attend college, such as standardized test prep, test registration, and the completion of college applications. High schools should utilize demographic data to identify underrepresented students and host special sessions dedicated exclusively for this group of students.

What are ways we can bridge the knowledge gap between students in the college application process and their parents, who are not as familiar with the process?

School districts must be intentional in allocating financial resources and time towards addressing the parents and students unfamiliar with the college application process. While mandating sessions that provide information related to the application process can be tricky, combining the sessions with school registration, parent teacher conferences, and even participation in extracurricular activities is not as difficult. Furthermore, a quick scan of the educational landscape in their community can also aid efforts. Specialized programs with missions of assisting students through the process and community colleges that enroll many underrepresented student populations are almost always willing help, as it can aids their 'bottom line'.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

Virtually all parents want their students to become successful and guide the next generation of their family to unprecedented success educationally and ultimately economically. Nevertheless, parents also fear the inability to provide adequate resources to contribute towards the effort, and of possessing the knowledge to support their students through the college application process and into college.

In a first generation and/or low income household, students must express their desire to attend college as early as possible, giving the parent time to conduct research on the process and financially prepare to aid with expenses. Even if a student anticipates receiving the majority or all tuition via financial aid or scholarships, there are supplementary costs such as traveling to and from college, the necessity of 'spending money', and more. The student needs to research viable college options, understand the financial facets of attendance, and be willing to work hard academically, possibly obtaining several forms of scholarship funding (institutional and private).

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

A current college student or recent college graduate that did not initially anticipate college in their future can play a major role removing doubts from current high school students. Parents, adult relatives, and school representatives might all give encouragement to a student, but the student might not envision a realistic vision of attending college from said encouragement. However, I have personally witnessed current college students returning to their high school and describing their positive and negative collegiate experiences, how to navigate past problems, and most importantly, conveying that attending college is not only attainable, but that succeeding is possible.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background apply and transition to college?

Expecting the rate of underrepresented college attendance to rise without mandating measures to rectify the issue in not only unbecoming of an educator, it is leaning towards unethical. High schools have free and reduced lunch information, data on which students hail from traditionally underrepresented populations, and more just few mouse clicks or file cabinets away. High schools, especially those with marginal budgets and large populations of underrepresented students, must incorporate a college planning class into their curriculum. The class might be somewhat shorter than a traditional class period, it might replace a “homeroom” section, or possibly extend the school day, but it is an essential piece for school districts that want to increase the number of underrepresented students matriculating to college.

In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

Bridge programs, whether optional or mandatory to gain college admittance, usually offer early academic remediation to not only prepare students for the rigors of college, but also to close the academic gap between them and their more affluent, and frequently more academically prepared peers. While these programs can be beneficial, colleges and universities must rely on their own institutional data to identify incoming students with similar data points to those past students that have left the institution before graduating. If an institution has a relatively accurate idea of why past students did not matriculate and ultimately finish, customized measures can create a 'support package' of actions to prevent the same fate for the incoming freshman.

How do students become connected with your nonprofit or other nonprofits like yours?

Pre-college TRiO programs such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound serve first generation and low income students in grades six through 12. With more than 1,200 programs in the nation combined, hosted by institutions of higher education and nonprofit entities, parents and students must conduct research to locate a program in close proximity to their home. Application processes can vary in length, but the time to complete the application pales in comparison to the benefits a student will receive.

About Ethan Zagore

Director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame Ethan Zagore serves as the Director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame, providing oversight for two U.S. Department of Education sponsored programs, Educational Talent Search (899 students) and Upward Bound (104 students), both aimed at assisting preparing underrepresented students for college academically, socially and culturally. Prior to his current position, he served at LeMoyne-Owen College (HBCU) in Memphis, Tennessee, as the inaugural Director of the Student Achievement Center. Originally from the West Garfield Park community of Chicago and a product of Providence-St. Mel High School, Ethan was awarded a Congressional Award honoring Outstanding Educational Administrators by Congressmen Danny K. Davis (IL) in August 2017. Educationally, he has obtained a B.B.A in Marketing from Howard University and an M.A. in Inner City Studies Education from Northeastern Illinois University. Ethan is currently pursuing his doctorate in Urban Higher Education at Jackson State University (dissertation stage).

2 Kendrick Kenney, Professor Bowie State University and First Generation College Student

As a first generation student, you must realize an education is a step ladder to your ultimate career goals. And a career will allow you to better the world and most importantly, the communities we come from.

By Kendrick Kenney Professor, Bowie State University
Learn more about Kendrick Kenney

Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience applying to college as a first generation student?

I grew up an only child in a two parent household. However, neither one of my parents went to college which generationally speaking seemed normal because college wasn't as imperative to career growth as it is now. So navigating the application process was an adventure within itself. It became a daunting task and quickly became overwhelming. My high school counselors had so many students in their caseloads and even though they worked diligently, it was still difficult to know if you were moving in the right direction. Throughout the process, I believe I had two saving graces. The first was a program implemented from a man in my community named Xavier Richardson who was a graduate of Princeton University. His program allowed us to tour college campuses and meet with recruiters. In retrospect, actually going to the physical campuses made the process of applying to college a lot easier and exciting. He also provided us with free SAT prep which was beneficial. The second event that propelled me through my application process was an uncle who had married into the family. He actually took me to his alma mater during a regular school day so I could see how a day on-campus would look like, feel like, and smell like. I was so captivated by the school, I ultimately decided to attend for my undergraduate experience.

What were some of the biggest difficulties you faced in the application process?

Some of the difficulties I faced early on were financial. Most public schools have programs that will assist with cost, so that was beneficial. The next hurdle normally is getting your hands on all your official documents, like your academic transcripts and medical records. This process made me realize the importance of the relationship between the school counselor and myself. I advise high school students to build that relationship early and to make sure they are consistent with visiting. This will make the application process a lot smoother.

How did you solve these problems?

I did my research and found every fee waiver I could find. I also set up weekly meetings with my counselor my senior year (do not feel guilty -- they are there for you).

What resources and tools did you use?

Collegeboard.org was my greatest resource throughout the entire process.

What advice would you give to other first generation students who are looking to apply to college?

I would tell them to make arrangements to visit a few college campuses of interest. I know resources can make it tough -- however, don't be afraid to ask extended family, church family, or community members for help. A college education will allow you to give back to that same community. I would also suggest becoming extremely diligent in scheduling appointments with that school counselor -- they are the bridge between you and an admissions department of universities.

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

I would encourage students to write emails; if a young person writes me a well-written, professional email, that shows me he or she takes this situation seriously and I give it immediate attention. It also allows the young person to gather their thoughts and articulate their needs. I would urge young people to take advantage of the technological space we live in. All the help you need is at your fingertips.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

As a first generation college graduate, I would say you have to approach it aggressively, with a willingness to learn and understand that your parents may not be able to support you during this process, but you have to look at it like it's the scrimmage before the game. College is about your new found independence -- creating a schedule and waking up for class. This is just jump starting that process. Be hopeful for their support, but understand you are making new strides for your family as a whole.

What is the role of a high school providing support to students who may be lacking it?

I can't say this enough: become extremely close with your high school counselor -- they have your proverbial road map to college. Do not be hesitant to schedule weekly meetings.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background apply and transition to college?

I would like to see all schools implement college tour programs. This gives first generation college students the opportunity not only to physically experience campus life, but the on-campus recruiters and admissions department can answer any questions face to face.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

It's all about influence. In the 90's, companies would have “cool chasing campaigns” where they would locate tastemakers or change agents in communities to get an insight on what was cool so they then in turn could market it for profit. A student who is already sold on the idea of college has to be an influencer. Essentially, be the tastemaker in your group and show other young people the perks of attending college. Freedom and a new environment are things that will lure newcomers to pursue their own collegiate experiences.

How can students assuage feelings of guilt being away from home, if they have previously been a provider of income, or childcare, to the family?

Keep the long-term goal in mind. I personally went through this, but I also knew that I was experiencing things my family had never experienced. I also realized that the end goal was a degree that would allow me to do way more for my family in the long run. As a first generation student, you must realize an education is a step ladder to your ultimate career goals. And a career will allow you to better the world and most importantly, the communities we come from.

Did you find any issues once you started at school? Things you weren't prepared for? Things your peers didn't seem to be experiencing?

I think every college freshman will run into a few issues here and there. It is super important to build on-campus relationships. I remember I was a first generation student and I had an issue. My freshman seminar teacher proved to be a valuable resource and helped me navigate the situation. It taught me a valuable lesson about networking; building relationships is the most important thing you can do when you step foot on campus.

In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

I think colleges and universities have a responsibility to forge relationships with high schools. If students can have face to face interactions with admissions representatives, it takes some of the guess work out. Now as a college professor, I consider myself a walking billboard; I am always looking to share information with potential students. That way it's not just words on a paper -- it makes the process less intimidating.

Any final thoughts for us?

Being a first time college graduate was a life-changing experience. Education has taken me all over the world. I encourage students to embrace the journey. College will be full of twists and turns, but trust the process and always have the end goal in mind. Write out a plan your first day on-campus. Once you finish your matriculation, always pay it forward and influence more kids in your community to finish college.

About Kendrick Kenney

Professor, Bowie State University Kendrick Kenney grew up in Fredericksburg Virginia. He went on to earn a master's degree in organizational communications at Bowie State University as well as a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Virginia State University. Kendrick is currently a full-time communications lecturer at Bowie State University where he is also the coordinator of the broadcast journalism concentration. Before entering the classroom, Kendrick served as the lead video and media coordinator for two intercollegiate sports programs. Kendrick has also worked on projects and productions with Emmy award winning producers. Kendrick has a passion for brand management and takes pride in doing community outreach focusing on young people and media literacy. He is also a first generation college graduate.

3 Jose Villar, Associate Director of College Enrichment and Outreach Programs, University of New Mexico

One student may be a first generation student who needs help applying to college, while another student may be a third generation college student who is homesick. There is no 'one size fits all', but creating an environment to support all students with whatever they need is critical.

By Jose Villar Associate Director of the College Enrichment and Outreach Programs, University of New Mexico
Learn more about Jose Villar

People often talk about support and accessibility for first generation students, how important do you think support is for all students?

Support for all students is extremely important. I do not think that support for all students is excluded from the conversation or considered less important when discussing ways to better support students who are first-generation. However, conversations surrounding the distribution of resources and the level of support for first-generation students are a high priority because an effort to create opportunities for underrepresented students will create a ripple effect and directly impact the achievement and knowledge gaps that are present today.

What forms of support do you think are most often missing?

I would say that the biggest missing piece for students is the amount of information, or lack of information, that students and their families have access to. In fact, there are things that some students and families simply have no clue about whatsoever. The old saying “you don't know what you don't know” is very real for all students and situations keep coming up that were not on their radar time and time again.

How to apply to college, the actual cost of going to college, hidden costs, the different types of majors and degrees that are available, course placement, how to pay for college, graduate school, etc. are all pieces of information that the majority of students have to learn as they go, or else ask someone for guidance. If a student does not have information on who to ask for guidance or when to ask for help, that creates a problem within itself.

There is a plethora of support areas that are often 'missing', but in my opinion, some of these obstacles can be avoided with greater access to information.

Why is support such a vital part of the college application process?

The most important step in every process is the first step - getting started. There are thousands of different colleges and universities in the United States. In particular, New Mexico (my state) has 27 to choose from! They each have their own culture, admission standards, costs, degree programs, student populations, support programs, deadlines, locations, application fees, etc. Wanting to go to college and searching for schools is the easy part. Finding the right school and actually submitting the application is the hard part.

Searching for the right school on your own and not knowing where to start can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating. This can lead students to believing that 'maybe college isn't for me' or delaying the process of applying altogether.

A delay in the application process can also lead to problems. Some schools have priority application dates that correlate with scholarships and priority access to selecting classes. As a result, they may have to take classes at an inconvenient time, or they may have less financial aid to help pay for their courses. These consequences are large prices to pay for a delay in submitting an application; having support along this process is vital.

What does good support look like to you?

This question is tough! I do not believe that there is one definition of good support because each student interaction will require something different. So, I guess my response will be more of a cop out… It depends!

From a parent or guardian?

Encouragement. Parents may not know all the steps of going to college, but they should encourage their students to pursue college. Starting to prepare for college can start on day one. Parents can encourage students to read more books, develop great study habits, establish saving habits, and learn how to budget. Parents can also talk to their students about different goals, dream jobs, and potential schools. Later, they can get students involved in their community and encourage them to give back, as this can help with scholarship applications.

Students are where they are today because of the support of their parents, so that support needs to continue, especially during the high-stress time of going to college.

At UNM, we've created a step by step guide that offers students and families some suggestions when it comes to preparing for college. This guide offers suggestions and action items for all grade levels (K-12). I'd encourage all institutions to create a similar guide.

From a mentor?

Be there. Mentors are selected because the student believes that they can grow from the interaction. Support can be helping students look for colleges, apply to colleges, revise essays, or it can be as simple as offering an ear to the student; the most important part is being there. The student already built trust in you so being readily and consistently available is key.

From a school?

Embrace and empower. Students come from many backgrounds and experiences; it is up to the school to meet the students where they are and help them get to where they want to go.

One student may be a first-generation student needing help applying to college, while another student may be a third-generation college student who is homesick. There is not a 'one size fits all' formula but creating an environment to support all students with whatever they need is important.

In addition, schools should empower students to own and embrace their personal stories. Normalizing student experiences and putting inclusive excellence at the forefront will pave the way for students to get through college.

How can the overall community attitude towards education affect a student's college aspirations?

I'm a firm believer in the idea that we are a product of our environment and we can talk things into existence. I believe that communities should embrace a cultural shift in the way they talk about college aspirations. For example, rewording everyday conversations to have a positive spin on going to college is key.

Personally, I have adopted a new way of talking to my nieces and nephews and refuse to ask them: “are you going to college?”. Instead, I ask questions such as: “where do want to go to college?” and “what do you want to study in college?". The idea is that I want them to be fully aware that going to college is a reality and they can do it.

For students who don't have the traditional parent/guardian role/figure in their life where can they turn?

Me!!! (I'm being serious)

Reaching out to other first-generation students, possibly from their hometown, who had a similar experience and have succeeded is very important. A mentor can be a source of encouragement, motivation, and advice.

There are hundreds of individuals on every campus who love helping students. As a professional staff member, I have yet to meet someone who applied to work at an institution of higher education for the money. On the other hand, I cannot name one individual who isn't passionate about helping students. Institutions are full of faculty and staff who chose a career that allows them to give back to students by making the journey to graduation smoother than their own experience.

In my case, I am a first generation college student from rural New Mexico. I moved to the 'big city', attended The University of New Mexico (UNM) and took a class that had enough seats to fit every student from my high school. As a student, I wandered around aimlessly not knowing where to turn for support. Many times I felt that I was on this journey alone and that UNM wasn't for me. I often complained (to myself) about how flawed the system was and I wished there were people who were willing to help me and knew what I was going through. The truth is, there were many people willing to go above and beyond to support me, I just didn't know where to look.

When selecting this career, I vowed to make myself available for anyone who needed help and to make sure students know where to look for that support. With that said, feel free to reach out! I am happy to mentor any student near or far along their path to graduation. In addition, I am happy to reach out to other campuses to get students connected to resources near them.

Jose Villar, jvillar@unm.edu

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

Start small. There seems to be a big stigma when it comes to asking for help. We see it everywhere, even in movies! For example, I am sure everyone has watched a scene that shows a family driving around lost and the driver refuses to ask for directions. If you're lost, ask for help. Maybe it's being stubborn or the satisfaction of figuring it out on their own. Maybe it's the fact that it appears that there is no one available to help, or it's the fear that they are asking a 'dumb question'.

Whatever the reason, students are ingrained with the idea that they should know the answer, they are the only one who doesn't know that answer, they need to figure it out on their own, or (the worst myth) students may believe that they will put a burden on someone else. These myths completely hinder success.

Starting small and getting in the habit of asking for help is key. It gets easier to ask for help when you do it more frequently. Ask your little brother to help you do your chores, ask your parents to help you with a class project, or ask your teacher if you can come in early and get help with the homework assignment. Before you know it, you will realize that asking for help is not that bad and it is completely okay to do.

Figuring things out on your own is fine, but it is not the best use of your time. If you can get something done with less headaches and in half the time, why wouldn't you want that? Work smarter, not harder!

What is the role of a high school providing support to students who may be lacking?

I believe that equal opportunity is key. In my experience, it seemed as if all of the support from my high school counselors went to a select few. The same students earned all the scholarships and got into the most schools. Were those students deserving and proactive? Absolutely! I just felt that not as much energy was spent on my dreams and aspirations because I was not in the top 10 of my class and did not have the highest grades. In fact, one of my high school teachers asked me: “when you graduate are you going to apply to the prison or the coal mine?”, the two largest employers in my hometown. I guess they didn't believe that a low income, first-generation, minority wanted to go to college or would be successful. Clearly, they were wrong!

I often think of that conversation and question if other students are viewed this way. Maybe I could have had more support if people in my own high school didn't assume what would be the best path for me…who knows!

Whether a student is fully supported, or whether they are lacking support, high schools and colleges should meet students where they are and help them get to where they want to go. If a school admits someone, it is their responsibility to help them graduate.

What are ways we can bridge the knowledge gap between students in the college application process and parents who are not as familiar with the process?

Inclusion is the best way to bridge the gap between college bound students and their parents/guardians who are not familiar. For the longest time, there has been a culture that encourages parents to 'let go' when someone turns 18 or graduates from high school. There are negative stereotypes of 'helicopter parents', but I believe those stereotypes are counter productive. There is a positive correlation between parental involvement in all aspects of life, so why should going to college be any different? In fact, going to college is one of the biggest life events someone can face, so why is it so important that students go through this event alone or without their biggest fan and source of encouragement and motivation, their parents?

Hosting “How to Pay for College” or “Applying to College” workshops that are catered to families is essential. Events in the evening and on weekends that are designed to educate both parents and students on all of these processes are great starting points. By doing this, parents may be better prepared to help their next child on their path to college and graduation.

There are major milestones that happen in life and parents play a key role in meeting those milestones. Going to college is a huge milestone, so including parent/guardian support in that experience will pay dividends.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

I always knew I wanted to go to college, but I never knew of all the steps on how to get there. My family always said they would support me with whatever I chose, but if I wanted to go to college they would not know how to help me. This is completely normal and okay; we can't expect everyone to know everything.

The best approach will be for students to share their aspirations with their family. If they do not know what you want to do, there is no way they can help you get there!

There were plenty of times when my mom would talk to her friends or coworkers about what my plans were and opportunities came from that. My mom would come home and tell me about scholarships or deadlines that she heard from a friend. Although my mom was not the best source to helping me fill out a college application, she was certainly a great source of information. Had I not expressed my interest of going to college, she may have not had those conversations with her friends and coworkers. So let them know your plans early. Your family will be your strongest advocate and help you find opportunities to make your dreams a reality.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

I would suggest that we all lose the 'crabs in a bucket' mentality. Going to college should not be a race to the top. We should not keep someone else from getting to where they want to go. There will always be competition among individuals, but this mentality can be hindering. For example, not sharing a scholarship application with a classmate because you do not want to compete against them for the funds is not very productive.

Students are all in this together, and they should work together to reach their goals. Students should study for the ACT and SAT together. Students should send scholarship opportunites to each other and revise each other's letters of intent. Making an intentional effort to support and share resources is critical. Helping each other out and helping a classmate get to where they want to go is much more rewarding.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background apply and transition to college?

High schools should host more college fairs and visits. They should bring in alumni who graduated from college to share their positive experiences in college. And more importantly, they should focus on creating and preparing successful college students as opposed to creating high school graduates. Raise the bar!

In your opinion how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

I think schools need to embrace and empower students. In addition, they must revisit their role to society and stay true to their mission of educating our future generations. There needs to be a strong commitment to serve all students who are admitted, regardless of how much money that student has or if their parents went to college.

There needs to be a clear commitment in terms of allocating resources, providing clear pathways, celebrating success stories, and changing the perception and stereotypes of first-generation students. One way to do this would be to change the approach of support for first generation and underrepresented populations, from a deficit model to more of a strength model.

How do students become connected with programs like yours?

When I talk to students, I encourage them to follow the steps below. Making a connection is hard to do at first, but once a connection is made life will be much easier!

- Visit the online homepage of the school you are attending
- Find the search box in the right hand corner of the page
- Type “Student Support Services” or “First-Generation” or “Student Affairs”
- Call the first two offices or departments that come up in the search and ask to make an appointment with someone in their office
- Introduce yourself and let them know that you are wanting to get connected to campus and need help finding resources. Share that you are new to this experience and you are a first-generation student
- Follow through on the recommendations that are offered to you

If you cannot find an office on your campus, contact me. I will get you connected with someone on the campus you plan on attending as a starting point.

Any final thoughts for us?

When I was younger and I was asked if I was a first-generation student, I would lie about and said 'no'. Why? Because I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me, I didn't want to feel like I was less prepared, and I was also embarrassed. Many students feel like this - that's normal!

In hindsight, I wish I would have shared my story. There are programs and scholarships that are specifically designed for first-generation students so by my lying about my status, I more than likely missed out on those opportunities. So be proud of your story and do not hesitate to share it.

Today in my practice, I remember my experience and change my language and perception. I share that I was the first in my family to graduate from college and I am proud of it! I make sure that all students know that if I can do it, so can they. I also do not talk about the obstacles they may face being a first-generation student because everyone is going to face obstacles. Instead, I talk about the opportunities and the sense of pride I have knowing that I am the first person to do this thing called college. I was once embarrassed to be considered first-gen but now I am proud of it because I was a trailblazer for my family! Was it hard? Absolutely! Did I know what I was doing? Heck no! Did I get through it? YES!

Colleges must realize that they need to support, embrace, and empower their first-generation population. A starting point is to stop talking about what they need to do to fix or fill holes in order to get first generation students to graduate. They need to start talking about how they can get students motivated to be the first in their family to graduate.

I am not a first-generation student, I am a first to finish student!

About Jose Villar

Associate Director of the College Enrichment and Outreach Programs, University of New Mexico Jose is the Associate Director of the College Enrichment and Outreach Programs (CEOP) at the University of New Mexico. In this role, Jose oversees a number of programs that collaborate to create a seamless support pipeline that promotes P-20 success. This pipeline is designed to create access and increase recruitment, retention, graduation, and development of students in higher education. Jose is certainly grateful for this opportunity because it provides him the opportunity to give back to students who are 'just like him'. Jose is from the small town of Grants, New Mexico and he was the first in his family to go to college. He earned his BBA in Human Resource Management and his MBA in Organizational Leadership from UNM. He has a passion for meetings students where they are and helping them get to where they want to go.

4 Tajiana Ellis, Senior Education Specialist, Treehouse

Support is important for all students because of where they are developmentally -- discovering who they are and becoming confident in that person. Students need that support to know they can be themselves, they have room to grow, and they don't need to have all the answers. Support is a way for them to know they don't have to go through this alone and there are people out there who are willing to help them.

By Tajiana Ellis Senior Education Specialist, Treehouse
Learn more about Tajiana Ellis

People often talk about support and accessibility for first generation students; how important do you think support is for all students?

Support is important for all students because of where they are developmentally -- discovering who they are and becoming confident in that person. Students need that support to know they can be themselves, they have room to grow, and they don't need to have all the answers. Support is a way for them to know they don't have to go through this alone and there are people out there who are willing to help them.

What forms of support do you think are most often missing?

The main thing I see missing is the understanding that not every student knows what the college application process looks like, especially in communities where going to college after high school isn't the norm. Students need someone to help them navigate this process because the intricacies can be overwhelming. We need to teach them the basics, because you can't assume that students come with this understanding. They need to know the differences between an AA or a BA, a scholarship and a loan, and between a major and a minor.

Why is support such a vital part of the college application process?

Support is vital because there are so many different steps that can be missed if a student isn't aware of all the requirements. There are so many deadlines: deadlines for testing, deadlines for the application itself, and deadlines for the FAFSA. If the application requires letters of recommendation, students are going to have to ask adults to write them and rely on them to get the letters back in time for the application deadline. Once you miss a deadline, it can really mess the whole process up.

What does good support look like to you?

For a parent or guardian:

Ideally they will hold the student accountable to their deadlines, goals, and communications with their college guidance counselor. They'll also be there emotionally because it can be overwhelming for the student with everything that is going on in their young lives, acknowledging when the student feels overwhelmed, and just letting them know that the student can do this.

From a mentor:

A mentor should set up a calendar with the student so all the deadlines for all the schools they want to apply to can be accounted for. Missing one deadline can mess everything up. They should also aide in keeping track of their to-do list; check-in with them during the college application process as often as you can because things can come up pretty quickly. Reaffirm that they can do this.

From a community:

It really takes the whole team, every stakeholder in that student's life, to stay engaged with what's required of them. This ensures nothing is being done twice, starting with a steady line of communication to make sure things are being done efficiently and deadlines aren't being missed. This should be followed by continued affirmation that the student can do this and achieve their goals.

From a school:

Schools should make sure teachers are completing their letters of recommendation in a timely manner and that college guidance counselors are aware of the scholarships and programs students may be eligible for. They should then communicate these resources to the student, mentors, and parents/guardians.

How can the overall community attitude towards education affect a student's college aspirations?

It can really go two ways, negative and positive. Who they're around can affect how they see their future self, especially for first generation students. When they're hearing their families say they can't afford college, it makes it so they can't see a way out. They need to hear that they can do it, despite what their grades look like, despite the decisions they've made in the past. An encouraging community can definitely motivate a student who doesn't have that intrinsic determination; all they know is what they hear. So if they hear, “College is not an option, we can't afford it”, they'll believe it. But if they have one or two people who tell them, “You can go to college, there are scholarships,” it can be a huge motivator.

For students who don't have the traditional parent/guardian role in their life, where can they turn?

What I've found working with youth in foster care at Treehouse is that there are so many people who are willing and would love to make their goal of college a reality. It is really just a matter of going out and finding them.

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

With my students, if they're nervous about asking for help, I'll maybe ask them what their needs are and have them write it out. Then maybe we'd roleplay what it will be like to communicate those needs to that person. Basically, whatever they need to do to make them feel prepared. It's important to empower students in high school because this is something that they will have to learn if they're going to move on to college.

What is the role of a high school when providing support to students who may be struggling?

Most high schools have a career or college counselor in addition to the traditional school counselor; their role should be to support students with post-secondary options. They should help create awareness around college-prep programs that their school is collaborating with, and work with students to get them connected to those resources. Most importantly, they should make sure every student has a plan for their immediate future after graduation.

What are ways we can bridge the knowledge gap between students in the college application process and parents/guardians who are not familiar with the process?

Parents need to be included into the entire process of applying to college, and communication is key. All stakeholders in that student's life need to be brought to the same table. Mentors, like myself, need to make sure that we're communicating with the parent or guardian about what that student is working on, so they can help as much as they are able to. It starts with updates, but if they want to be more involved, help educate them on the entire processes.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college application?

I would recommend that the student create some kind of plan on how they're going to explain to their family why they want to go to college and how they're going to get there. Students should start conversations as early in the process as possible. They should explain what resources they have available to them in order to relieve any anxiety a family might have about not knowing how this is going to work.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

I think high school students are extremely influenced by their peers. So when a student encourages another student to get connected to college resources, to look at colleges together, or to even just do their homework together, it can be extremely beneficial for everyone involved.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background transition to college?

I would really like to see high schools have programs that give intentional support to students who don't grow up in families where college is the norm. A program designed like Treehouse's Graduation Success model, but geared towards first-generation college students. This would be a program where a positive caring adult would become a consistent person in that young adult's life; a mentor that would hold them accountable academically, emotionally, and even socially. They would walk them through every step that goes into the transition to postsecondary education with a holistic approach. I think a program like this could be just as impactful as Graduation Success.

In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students have an easier transition?

A lot of schools are starting to have programs that are catered to supporting first generation students and youth who were in foster care transition into postsecondary life. Some of them use mentors that connect with them regularly. However, a lot of these programs go unnoticed by students, so for schools that do have these programs, I would start by improving outreach.

How do students become connected with your nonprofit or other nonprofits like yours?

Students are referred to Treehouse by either a state social worker, counselors, or teachers through our website at treehouseforkids.org. For other nonprofits, students can be recommended or referred to programs by teachers or other adults in that youth's life. Many times, students who already have resources are the first to get recommended and referred, which creates an additional barrier for students who lack resources to get connected. It needs to be student-initiated, teaching the students how to reach out and get connected to these programs. If you're a student trying to get connected to these programs, I would talk with teachers or counselors you trust to see if they know of any resources you may be qualified for. If that doesn't work, I would go to Google to do your own research.

Final thoughts?

It is so important that students feel supported in their goals and aspirations. Sometimes we even need to teach them to have goals, to have aspirations. Once they do, we need to help them navigate how to get there, making sure that they have all the tools and resources they need along the way.

About Tajiana Ellis

Senior Education Specialist, Treehouse Tajiana Ellis is a Senior Education Specialist at Treehouse, an organization committed to providing youth in foster care with academic and other essential support to graduate from high school. Over the past four years at Treehouse, she has provided one-on-one support to more than 60 youth in foster care using the student-centered planning and Check and Connect models. Tajiana serves as a facilitator for student-centered planning trainings at Treehouse to onboard new Education Specialists. She has more than 15 years of experience working with young people, providing mentorship and academic support. Tajiana was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, where she earned her bachelor's degree in sociology with a double minor in education and diversity. Tajiana received her master of science degree in youth development from Kansas State University. When she's not at Treehouse, you can find Tajiana serving at Evangel Temple Full Gospel Church and ministering spoken word poetry.

5 Greg Kaplan, Founder, College Path

Support is critical to ensure that students make progress and use the college admissions process to develop into the passionate leaders of tomorrow.

By Greg Kaplan Founder, College Path
Learn more about Greg Kaplan

People often talk about accessibility for first generation students; how important do you think support is for all students?

What forms of support do you think are most often missing?

Success with the college admissions process requires planning and perspective to understand how applying to college fits into a student's long-term goals. First generation students often lack personal advice of tying college to the big picture. College counseling in high schools is limited and a first generation student might not receive the advice they need from parents or caregivers that know them the best when it comes to college.

Why is support such a vital part of the college application process?

Many students do not know where to begin when it comes to applying to college or how to turn the college admissions process into the springboard for long-term success. Support is critical to ensure that students make progress and use the college admissions process to develop into the passionate leaders of tomorrow.

What does good support look like to you?

From a parent or guardian?

Discussions with a student about their long term goals and how college admission fits into their plans for the future. Parents and guardians can help students manage the stress that comes with applying to college and support with students reflecting about their experiences in the applications.

From a mentor?

A mentor should provide guidance about how college fits into a student's long term plans.

From a community?

Most communities offer low cost or free resources to prepare for the college admissions process, including test prep.

From a school?

Schools offer information and guidance about what students need to do to apply to college and make the most of this process.

For students who don't have the traditional parent/guardian role/figure in their life where can they turn?

The web is a fantastic place to start. Khan Academy offers free courses on the college admissions process. I personally created College Path to provide weekly hand holding for the process, beginning as early as seventh grade for just $6/month. If a student cannot afford College Path, they can email us explaining their financial circumstances, and they can receive weekly guidance through the program for free.

How would a student identify that support is lacking?

A student need only ask if they feel like they have a plan to prepare for the college admissions process. If that plan is lacking, which is common, they need to meet with their school guidance counselor ASAP to understand at a minimum what classes they must take to be eligible to pursue their education further. Google searches can provide a great starting point thereafter.

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

I would tell students they are not alone. Applying to college can seem overwhelming. First, figure out what it takes to go to a college that interests you. Second, turn this process into one about you. Take classes, participate in activities, and find areas of life that interest you and pursue them with all your being. Colleges are looking for passion; the fun part is finding ways to express yourself.

What are ways we can bridge the knowledge gap between students in the college application process and parents who are not as familiar with the process?

We need to offer programming to parents that explains the process and offers strategies for parents to be supportive of their students in productive ways.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

I think it is helpful for students to approach college by explaining how it aligns with their long term goals. If cost is a concern (and when is it not), students need to explain to their parents the resources available to families to help with their finances.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

Reorient the conversation to long-term goals. Students feel anxious about the competition of getting into college, but this anxiety is misplaced as many different schools offer students the same path to the desired outcomes. While college is by no means a requisite or guarantee of a happy, healthy, and financially independent outcome post graduation, if a student doesn't see college as their destination after high school, perhaps they will be more comfortable seeing it as a stepping stone to something they are interested in.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background apply and transition to college?

Recognition that non traditional backgrounds bring incredible diversity and perspective to colleges, and that colleges are actively seeking these diverse perspectives on their campuses. College may feel out of touch for students from nontraditional backgrounds, but these students need to know that colleges want them to add to their campuses.

In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

Webinars or web pages geared specifically toward this community (in foreign languages as well) would be very helpful and a low cost, high impact way to engage the first generation community. This could also provide guidance about what colleges are looking for in applicants, and how these students can find resources in their communities. There is a credibility factor when coming directly from a university.

What organizations are you seeing students use to overcome these obstacle?

Test prep is critical for college admissions success. There are so many more students applying to college today from all over the world that colleges often make their first admissions decision based on test scores. There are incredible free resources for test prep and students can obtain competitive scores for the schools they are interested in attending online (Khan Academy), or at their school or local library.

Any final thoughts for us?

First generation students should develop a plan for tackling the college admissions process early, stick to it, and make sure that the plan is true to their passions and where they want to go in life.

About Greg Kaplan

Founder, College Path Greg Kaplan is the founder of College Path, the first web app that serves as a virtual advisor for college admissions, a college application strategist, and author of Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges. College Path and Greg are dedicated to helping students develop and market their passions to earn admission to their dream college and create the foundation for long-term success. For more information, visit www.collegepathweekly.com.

6 Jannette Artea, First-Generation College Student, Baylor University

There are so many resources out there now that weren't in the past. Any first-generation college student dealing with the college application process has so much information they can tap into to help guide them in the right direction.

By Jannette Artea First-Generation College Student, Baylor University
Learn more about Jannette Artea

Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience applying to college as a first generation student?

Applying to college was a bit nerve wracking. Not a single person on either side of my family had gone through the application process, so it was something totally foreign to my family and I. I spent many hours on Google looking up information regarding the application process, financial aid, and the schools I was interested in. I would do extensive research at home in the evenings and bring a long list of questions to my college counselor the next morning. My sophomore year of high school is when I really began researching schools and scholarships because I knew that I would need as much preparation as possible. That being said, it was an exciting time! It was a learning process that I undertook, along with my parents. The experience also allowed for my younger brother to witness firsthand what the college application process entailed and he was able to see his big sister begin the tradition.

What were some of the biggest difficulties you faced in the application process?

One of the biggest difficulties I faced was lack of knowledge. When you're a first generation student, you're pretty much starting from scratch. You have to take the initiative to learn about the process, source application tools, and ultimately undertake the application process.

How did you solve these problems?

I was incredibly proactive when it came to the college application process. Going to college was something different and something I hadn't been exposed to, so there was an excitement there. I took advantage of any and every opportunity presented to me through school and I went out of my way to find workshops or panels on the topic of applying for college. I was that 7th grader that you would see at high school college fairs because the way I saw it, I needed all the help, all the resources and connections to help answer my questions as I dove deeper into the application process.

What resources and tools did you use?

There was the usual resources I took advantage of - my college counselor, school college advising, looking up information on the Internet, and saying hello to all college admission reps that visited. However, I also looked up different workshops, panels, and events in my city that I could go to. I kept a close eye on my top schools and any recruiting events they did in my city to ensure I was there.

What advice would you give to other first generation students who are looking to apply to college?

Be proactive. Don't expect anyone to take your hand and walk you through the process. It's important that you know what you want and where you want to go. Begin engaging with people experienced in the topic, as well as tapping into any and every resource at your disposal. Don't be scared to ask questions.

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

There is no such thing as a bad question. There are plenty of kids out there that don't know where to begin, so don't be scared to ask any sort of question. You won't be the last, trust me. I recommend finding a mentor that you can ask all your questions to, in addition to college advisors and the internet. If you find someone you trust, it's typically easier to ask all the questions you would otherwise be too scared to ask.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

I recommend sitting down with your parents and explaining why it's important for you and what you hope to gain from the college experience. It's important to do this early on, especially if there's no college fund -- it gives you and your parents time to begin working on the financial portion of it.

What is the role of a high school when providing support to students who may be struggling?

I think it's very important for high schools to serve as a support system to help guide students to the application process. It's a tedious process as it is, so having someone to rely on is incredibly helpful - even more so if you're a first generation applicant

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a “traditional” background apply and transition to college?

I would love it if, in addition to pre-existing help, high schools customized outreach efforts to those that may not have the knowledge or resources outside of school. Advising when it comes to the college application process isn't “one size fits all,” and I think it's important to make changes based on that viewpoint.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

I think that simply sharing the enthusiasm over the next chapter of their school career is helpful! Excitement is contagious and for someone who hasn't always had the expectation of going to college, it's important to for them to see that it is a possibility and that in addition to counselors and teachers, you often have friends who can serve as resources by simply engaging on a conversation on the topic.

How can students assuage feelings of guilt being away from home, if they have previously been a provider of income or childcare to the family?

It's difficult. From experience, I've always been so embedded in my family life, helping with anything and everything and I know that coming from that background it's a heavy adjustment. What helped me was constant communication with my family. I called home frequently and tried to visit at least once a month since I was only an hour and a half away. Distract yourself by fully immersing yourself in the college experience - clubs, organizations, events, study groups, or anything else. It helps take your mind off the guilt and helps you naturally adapt to your new lifestyle.

Did you find any issues once you started at school? Things you weren't prepared for? Things your peers didn't seem to be experiencing?

I had no idea how college “worked.” An instant realization was that studying for a test in college the way you did in high school, was not going to cut it. It sounds silly, but having no one to give me an intro to what college life is really like made the transition a bit challenging. What I thought was “putting my all in” ultimately wasn't, and I had to make changes accordingly. It was a new experience in regards to workload and time management. Something that I just had never been exposed to.

In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

I think awareness is key. Schools need to be aware that not everyone comes from a collegiate background and tailor transition programs to those students. Orientations are fun and introductions are key, but providing specialized workshops to students who otherwise aren't sure what to expect would be incredibly helpful in easing the transition.

Any final thoughts for us?

There are so many resources out there now that weren't in the past. Any first-generation college student dealing with the college application process has so much information they can tap into to help guide them in the right direction. Being proactive and unafraid to ask for help is key.

About Jannette Artea

First-Generation College Student, Baylor University Born and raised in Dallas, with a stint in New York, Janette serves as an account executive for Bolt Public Relations in their Dallas office. A first-generation college student, she graduated from Baylor University with a bachelor of arts where she double majored in public relations and film/digital media. Prior to joining Bolt, she was working at a PR agency in New York where she worked on media relations and event planning for consumer and lifestyle clients.

7 Nijinsky Dix, Assistant Director of TRiO Programs, University of Notre Dame

By speaking to someone with informed experience, their expertise will not only help with short and long-term strategic planning, but it will also provide the student as well as his or her family with a resource to assist with understanding what the process entails and how to successfully navigate through the process.

By Nijinsky Dix Assistant Director of TRiO Programs, University of Notre Dame
Learn more about Nijinsky Dix

People often talk about accessibility for first generation students; how important do you think support is for all students?

Bearing the burden of an unchartered experience, while simultaneously changing the trajectory of one's familial outcome, can be a daunting task. To assist with the transition, academic institutions need to think holistically when attempting to provide resources for first-generation students. From ethnic affinity groups (social clubs) to addressing the population's concerns regarding perceived barriers to academic success, there needs to be an institutional effort to support firsts taking on the challenge of being a first. Without comprehensive and collective support, the perceived barriers to success become a reality.

What forms of support do you think are most often missing?

Cultural and emotional. Most institutions (via students) have or create groups to assist with the acculturation, enculturation, and assimilation processes. However, institutions fall short when understanding the various populations across campus. While diversity and inclusion is the current catchphrase, more emphasis should be placed on cultural competency, as the two concepts are not one and the same.

Why is support such a vital part of the college application process?

The college application process is extensive and can be intimidating, especially for families that have little to no experience with the process. You have seniors with a 4.0 GPA, all IB courses, great test scores, and commendable community service, however, when it comes to completing the application process, they become overwhelmed. They question the strength of their essays, if they can apply to their out-of-state dream school, can they afford it, who will help mom when they leave, and/or do they quit their part-time job and/or sport to dedicate more time to the process, etc. That's a lot, and the only way they successfully navigate through the process is via constant support. For instance, before every senior workshop, I allow participants two to three minutes to mentally and emotionally unload. They share the highs and lows of their school day, their frustrations with the application process, their perceptions of attending college, and their fears. It's a melting pot of 'I feel the same way' and 'me too.' Once the allotted time has expired, we discuss possible solutions (time management, study skills, etc.), locate the silver-lining, and lastly, I provide positive affirmations highlighting their abilities, their potential, and the beauty of being a first. Once our detox is over, we collectively reset and remind ourselves, “We got this. Let's go.” They are more productive every time. While they may need a little guidance with proofreading or listing all of their accomplishments (sometimes they minimize the achievements), I've noticed that most students simply need a cheerleader and supporter to keep them encouraged throughout the process.

What does good support look like to you?

From a parent or guardian?

Someone that says, “I'm proud of you” often; engaged (knowing their child's interests; grades; aspirations); not forcing their aspirations unto their kids; highlights the importance of education as soon as they enter grade school.

From a mentor?

Constant guidance, a motivator, a supporter, an awakener, a listening ear, a networker; an encourager, a GPS

From a community?

A partner with local schools; a supporter of academic and career driven initiatives; creating and implementing solutions that aid in creating global citizens

From a school?

Preparing students academically, culturally, and socially to become change agents; aligns students with the appropriate resources as applicable; culturally competent; aware of issues that impact education - locally and nationally; building and maintaining effective partnerships with community stakeholders; effective, up-to-date advising and guidance from staff and administrators.

How can the overall community attitude towards education affect a student's college aspirations?

If a community fails to highlight the importance of pursuing higher education, it leaves the student and the community in a space of complacency, unused knowledge and talents, and a lack of exposure allowing the cycle of limitations to permeate. On the other hand, when the community highlights the significance of the pursuit of higher education, it collectively champions the student's intellectual abilities and talents; it emphasizes how their decision-making and progression will not only change their family's trajectory, but that of the community; it removes limitations. The community's attitude towards education can be defining. It can inspire or impede.

For students who don't have the traditional parent/guardian role or figure in their life where can they turn?

Students and school personnel should assist with identifying a mentor or programming that can assist with not only academic and career aspirations, but social and cultural grooming as well. It can be an extended member of the family, a teacher that is readily supportive, a career consultant, and/or an academic advisor. I encourage students to have multiple mentors from different arenas - especially for students that may not have a traditional parent. Fortunately, I have learned that most mentors all share the same desired outcome: success.

How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?

I often tell students that the difference between an A and a C is a question. If a student is too timid to make an inquiry in front of large groups, I advise him/her to speak with the person alone. I also make it a habit to ask questions in learning spaces so students know that I too am a “student.” To assist with alleviating fear, I also push students to ask questions when we're in public. Whether it be inquiring about an item on the menu or randomly stopping a student to locate a building on campus, I often put students in spaces that require them to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable, especially if the discomfort takes them out of their comfort zone.

What is the role of a high school when providing support to students who may be struggling?

As an academic setting, schools are responsible for identifying a student's strengths and weaknesses as well as solutions. However, considering the financial and personnel burdens of educational systems, solutions can often seem far-fetched. Nonetheless, this is where community partnerships come into action. Being aware of community resources, while creating and maintaining partnerships can build bridges of solutions. Whether it be behavioral or academic, community entities often provide resources and support to the school and the student.

What are ways we can bridge the knowledge gap between students in the college application process and their parents, who are not as familiar with the process?

Teachers and administrators have to be creative. For instance, to assist with college essays, I know several English teachers that turned Common Application essay questions into a class assignment. By embedding a component of the application process into their curriculum, students were simultaneously learning and become familiar with the application process. On the other hand, I have created scavenger hunts for participants when they attended a college fair where students had to ask certain questions to admission representatives to become more familiar about requirements for admission. In essence, if the process is embedded within the curriculum, it helps students to answer the question of, 'why are we doing this?”.

For parents, I think it is important to be actively engaged. Whether it be tutoring or needing assistance with the completion of the FAFSA, parents have to become comfortable with asking questions and staying connected. Currently, most schools have a Facebook page that highlights special events and a calendar of events on the school's website that make information more readily accessible. Community partners have taken it a step further by utilizing local news and radio to publicize programming and events to broadcast additional resources and/or help for community members. However, parents have to be accountable for locating and searching for information that will assist with navigating the process.

How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?

As soon as the student states that they aspire to attend college, they should immediately share that aspiration with someone that has successfully completed the process (teacher, guidance counselor, academic advisor, etc). By speaking to someone with informed experience, their expertise will not only help with short and long-term strategic planning, but it will also provide the student as well as his or her family with a resource to assist with understanding what the process entails and how to successfully navigate through the process.

How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?

Pay it forward. Whether it be serving as a mentor or a volunteer, it is important to recognize that someone poured into you. Support and encouragement are undoubtedly the most important characteristics that will determine if a student applies to college. No matter where it comes from, students want to hear and know that their aspirations are possible.

What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a traditional background apply and transition to college?

Cultural competency training. By understanding that a student's belief systems, values, behaviors, and outlook do not all align with the dominant culture, schools can better prepare faculty and administrators on how to meet the needs of diverse, underrepresented populations. Training should be an ongoing developmental series, not a four hour training.
In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?

Pre-collegiate programming, also known as bridge programs are designed to serve as a pre-college intervention to improve college readiness and reduce remediation, while promoting critical thinking and diversity of thought. It simulates the collegiate experience socially, culturally, and academically to prepare students for the rigors of college.

How do students become connected with your nonprofit or other nonprofits like yours?

Pre-college TRiO programs such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound serve first generation and low income students in grades six through 12. With more than 1,200 programs in the nation combined, hosted by institutions of higher education and nonprofit entities, parents and students must conduct research to locate a program in close proximity to their home. Application processes can vary in length, but the time to complete the application pales in comparison to the benefits a student will receive.

About Nijinsky Dix

Assistant Director of TRiO Programs, University of Notre Dame Nijinsky Dix is the assistant director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame where she assists marginalized students attain access to postsecondary education. Her experience includes the development and implementation of programming (pre-college/collegiate) that addresses academic competencies and/or deficiencies, as well as, social, economic, and personal barriers of first-generation, low-income students; cultivating and developing initiatives that create and foster a positive self-concept; empowering students to become more cognizant of their role as stakeholders, and most importantly, advising students on how to turn a liability into an asset. Nijinsky has also served on several professional committees to address equity, access, and educational advocacy for students of marginalized identities at Florida A&M University, the University of Illinois - Chicago, Lemoyne-Owen College, and the University of Notre Dame. Nijinsky is a two-time alumna of Florida A&M University and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Making the transition from high school to college, from work to college, from military service to college, or from one college to another (i.e., transfer students), requires some level of support. This can be physical, emotional, spiritual, academic, or medical as schools work to provide safe environments that encourage and enhance learning achievement.

What is Student Support?

Not sure what to major in? Having trouble keeping up in your chemistry course? Dealing with a crisis at home that's affecting your school work? Not sure how you'll pay for college next year? These are just a few situations in which student support services can improve your educational experience. Working with support services professionals at your school opens up access to resources. This support can come in many forms, such as assistance (e.g., scholarships, tutoring), guidance (e.g., career center counseling, academic advising), and encouragement (e.g., coaching, mentoring,).

Today's new college students will find more support available than ever before as colleges and universities invest in and expand a variety of services and resources for on-campus and online students. However, not every institution offers every service. It's critical that you understand what is available, and ask questions when you can't find the support you need.

Creating a Support System

There are many ways that students are supported as they decide to go to college, fill out their applications, and finally transition to campus for their first year. College readiness includes a wide range of knowledge and skills. ACT's most recent survey of educators at all educational levels (i.e., early elementary school through college) looked at how students are prepared for college and careers in four categories of readiness.

Preparing for college starts at school. Academic readiness may be the first thing that comes to mind. But there are additional areas to consider, such as being able to work effectively with others, solve problems, use technology, and motivate yourself to complete the requirements for graduation.

ACT Complete - Domains of Education and Career Readiness

  1. Core Academic Skills - English, reading, math, science knowledge and skills
  2. Cross-cutting Capabilities - problem solving, critical thinking, technology and information literacy
  3. Behavioral Skills - acting honestly, working well with others, remaining calm, confidence
  4. Education and Career Navigation Skills - developing action plans, making informed decisions

Source: National Curriculum Survey, 2016 (p. 2)

In which of these areas will you need support as a new college student? Your support system should include a combination of campus-based offices, as well as family- and community-based resources. If you aren't sure where to start, begin with your parents and extended family who have experienced higher education. Start asking your teachers about their time as college students. Advice from those who have been there can help you collect the resources you'll need to make the best possible decisions about college and succeed once you enroll.

First-Generation Students

Students whose parents have not attended college may find themselves facing additional challenges in their pursuit of a college degree. According to the I'm first! initiative, “it is estimated that 30% of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students.” This organization also reports that first-generation students are four times more likely to drop out than their classmates whose parents have gone to college.

Parents with college degrees can provide their college-bound children with advice based on first-hand experience. They may also be able to offer their children access to a network of college-graduates through alumni affiliations. Students without this kind of support must rely on getting the equivalent information and resources in different ways, beginning well before it's time to complete college applications.
Fortunately, many institutions are actively engaging first generation students while they are in high school. Programs like The University of Iowa's First Generation Iowa, provide insights about college life and seek to ease the transition into becoming a college student. This kind of support continues after students enroll and can continue through graduation with activities such as summer orientations tailored for first-generation students, mentoring from first-generation upperclassmen, as well as research and internship opportunities created for first-generation students. Clemson University's FIRST Program is just one example.

First-Term Success

Finding and using the resources you need is particularly important in your first year of college. According to U.S. News, “as many as 1 in 3 first-year students won't make it back for sophomore year.” The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds that “about 1 in 9 freshmen transfer elsewhere for their sophomore year.”

The reasons students choose to drop out or transfer are many. They may struggle with grades, financial considerations, managing a disability, balancing school with home and work responsibilities, for example. While there are many challenges to overcome in the transition to college, research shows that persisting through that first year of classes is a predictor for success.

Getting past the first year, either by staying put or by transferring to another institution, is one of the most important milestones to a college degree.

A study from Hanover Research provides a list specific strategies that institutions can implement to help students persist through that first academic year. Students should make the most of these opportunities by participating in activities, such as:

  • Attending academic advising appointments
  • Participating in student clubs, organizations, and student life events
  • Connecting with individual faculty members
  • Engaging in support services, such as counseling and writing centers
  • Attending orientation and academic readiness seminars
  • Connecting with mentoring and coaching programs

Explore the retention rate, defined by the U.S. Department of Education as “the percentage of a school's first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year.” And ask any schools you are applying to about their rate and efforts to improve it through creating effective student support services.

Resources for Academic Support

In addition to the academic services offered by your high school or college, these resources can be used to augment your efforts to prepare for college-level course work, and gain additional practice with more complex topics.

Purdue Online Writing Lab: This extensive online resource provides free access to writing guides and examples. Whether you are writing a research paper, have a grammar question, need to know how to cite a specific source, or want to write an effective cover letter, the OWL can assist.


Wolfram MathWorld: Explore this online collection of math resources. You'll find online calculators, demonstrations, and articles designed to help you better understand a wide range of math and statistics concepts.


Khan Academy: Your school may already provide access to an online tutoring system. If not, this site offers brief tutorials to assist with and build upon the work you are doing in your classes, whether you need to get up to speed with the basics or want to advance beyond what you are already covering.

Resources for Transitional Support

Whether you are making the transition to college from high school, the military, or after time off to work and raise a family, getting ready for success takes some preparation. There are a number of organizations already providing resources and assistance that may make a positive difference in your experience as a new student.

Student Veterans of America: Explore the resources offered through this nonprofit organization online and through over 1500 chapters located at colleges nationwide. Individual members also have access to a scholarships program for veterans, as well as fellowship opportunities, national conferences, and mentoring systems.


College Parents of America: Parents of new college students can find helpful tips and resources through this organization's website. Look for checklists and articles focusing on a range of relevant topics from admissions and paying for college to student health and financial literacy.


National Center for College Students with Disabilities: This federally-funded center offers resources and assistance for students with any kind of disability. Search the clearinghouse and resource library for specific topics. A list of crisis hotlines is also provided.

Resources for First-Generation Students

Students who are the first in their families to attend college may encounter additional challenges in navigating a successful student experience. These resources are just a few of those designed to support and advise these students on everything from admissions to career decision making.

Tips for Finding a Support System in College: You don't have to rely solely on your friends and family to guide you through your transition to college. They should be a part of your support system, however. This guide shares strategies for building your own team of advisors, which can include parents, college counselors, classmates, and more.


America Needs You: This nonprofit partners with corporations and philanthropic groups to provide career development workshops, mentors, and career coaching to “high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students” in select locations across the U.S.


I'm First!: Connect with advisors and other students in this online community for first-generation learners. Developed by the Center for Student Opportunity, as part of the Strive for College initiative, this site's resources includes ways to get your college questions answered through student blogs, Google hangouts, and Twitter chats.