Embarking on a path to higher education can be an exciting, but nerve-wrecking decision. With a plethora of universities to choose from in the U.S. alone, many have to evaluate affordability, academic offerings, and more.
It’s important to visit colleges, and review the options of both community colleges and four-year universities, and how to choose the right path for long-term goals and success.
Costs can play a determining role in attending a community college or a four-year university.
A four-year university usually comes with a steep admission price. The average cost of attendance for one student living on campus at a public 4-year-in-state college is anywhere from $26,027 per year or $104,108 over 4 years. To pay for these costs, students may have to rely heavily on large loans, which can be a deterrent.
Contrarily, community colleges are a fraction of the cost of four-year universities. At an average cost of only $5,155 per year for in-state students and $8,835 for out-of-state students, community colleges are a popular affordable alternative for those looking at higher education.
Additionally, students looking to navigate financial aid can uncover a wealth of resources demonstrating the myriad ways to make a college education financially accessible.
Remember, each institution may have unique ways of approaching tuition and financial aid, so don’t hesitate to ask admissions for specific guidance.
The College Experience
Four-year universities undoubtedly have more to offer for a comprehensive college experience. With Greek Life, a robust Student Union, and dorming, students who attend four-year colleges can bond and connect with their peers on a more frequent basis. Additionally, facilities like gyms, dining halls, and libraries are all conveniently located on campus, allowing students to take advantage of them as they need.
Community colleges, once primarily commuter-based institutions, have evolved to meet the diverse needs of their students. Some now offer on-campus housing, a feature traditionally associated with larger universities.
While not as prevalent, this option provides a valuable alternative for students seeking a more immersive college experience. It allows them to engage in campus life, build stronger connections, and fully participate in academic and extracurricular activities, much like their counterparts at larger institutions. This shift underscores the adaptability and responsiveness of community colleges in catering to the evolving needs of their student body.
Figuring Out What to Study
High school seniors may not know what they want to study when they perform a college search. This can lead to exploring community college in this case, providing a direction the student would like to go. These students can save money by first attending community college for all their general electives and then transferring to a four-year college for their major courses.
Additionally, many community colleges allow vocational programs and associate programs that can be completed in two years. This is a great career path for those who want to specialize in a specific trade or begin working in the workforce.
With more classes to choose from, students entering a four-year college often utilize the first two years to explore classes that they deem interesting. Furthermore, students who know their major can get a head start on their studies from their first year, allowing them to join fast-track programs for their fields and graduate at a higher rate than other students. Students who also want to continue on and receive their Master’s degrees or Ph.Ds can take advantage of their college’s resources and may even have a higher acceptance rate than those applying from outside the school.
Choosing higher education is an exciting choice, regardless of whether it’s a community college or a four-year university. Each choice offers its benefits and drawbacks as it relates to career, affordability, and experience but is a rewarding choice nonetheless.
Higher salaries and better job opportunities await those who decide to go the college route. As the fall application deadlines draw ever-nearer, wannabe attendees are chomping at the bit to select and apply to their dream institutions. The process can be daunting, but with the right headspace and guidelines, it’s easier than most believe.
It’s important to visit colleges before applying to shortlists and waiting for acceptances.
As most admissions experts say, students should apply to between four and 12 schools, depending on the budget they have for application fees. To ensure a balanced mixture, individuals can categorize colleges into three groups — reach, target, and safety.
Despite that, some students don’t feel compelled to apply to many schools, as they have a strong sense of where they want to go. However, they must realize that by applying to fewer institutions, they run higher risks of getting that soul-destroying rejection letter.
So, aim the college search to around 12 colleges and follow the professionally given tips below to aid the decision process:
- List — Students should list the colleges they find interesting alongside a guardian or school counselor. It should include a wide range of schools with geographic locations, academic majors, qualities, sizes, costs, campus environments, and support systems that make sense for the pupil.
- Rank — Since the list will likely be long, it’s now time to whittle the options down. Students need to consider what they want and need from their college experience to make this part of this process easier. Some people prefer the Big 10 experience, while others want an intimate vibe.
- Visit — Exploring college campuses allows families and students to get a better feel of institutions’ cultures. When visiting, it’s important to ask questions, sample the cafeteria, and look at the on-campus housing.
- Unable to visit in person? – Fear not, as college visits often do come with a hefty price tag. Fortunately, there are resources available to virtually explore campuses from the comfort of home. Immerse yourself in the college experience by tuning in to episodes of ‘The College Tour’ and participating in free classes to gain invaluable insights into which campus aligns perfectly with your aspirations.
At this stage, pupils will have a shortlist of colleges they want to apply to. For that, they’ll need to head to the next section.
Applying to Colleges
Applications for fall 2024 opened August 1, 2023, for most colleges, but there are different admission options that let students submit their applications by different deadlines — early action, early decision, regular decision, and rolling admissions.
Fall 2024 deadlines are summarized below:
- Early action (apply early, receive early decisions) — Application deadline is November 2023. Admission decision is December 2023.
- Early decision (similar to early action, some colleges have two early decision deadlines) — Application deadline is November 2023. Admission decision is December 2023.
- Regular decision (most students apply during this batch, thanks to the wide application window) — Application deadline is January/February 2023. Admission decision is March/April 2024.
- Rolling admission (colleges evaluate applications as they come in, offering several application windows per year) — Application deadline varies. Admission decision is between four and six weeks.
Early admission only works well for students who are prepared quickly within their senior years, giving themselves plenty of relaxation time. Most, though, are better off waiting for the regular window.
Regardless of when students apply, they typically must submit a personal essay, official transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and one to three recommendation letters.
It’s unsurprising for students to feel immense pressure when deciding on a path to take in college, as many feel it’s a decision that will shape not only their academic years but also their future career route.
However, the major chosen as a college student will not predict, nor guarantee the future success in a specific career field. Oftentimes, students choose a generalized field of study, for example, liberal arts, and alter their class load throughout their time at college. Many graduates will even find jobs unrelated to their field of study.
Moreover, when equipped with the right resources and proper guiding questions, deciding can become surprisingly straightforward. All it requires is some time for introspection and perhaps the guidance of an advisor or a parent.
Coming to such a crucial decision can come about from visiting, and partaking in campus tours, as well as videos of students from different colleges talking about their respective majors and future career direction. The following article will navigate the maze of endless possibilities, which will ultimately end with an answer to the question, “What major is right for me?”
Define Interests In and Out of the Classroom
The proverb “choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” encapsulates why this is a significant step.
A college major is the first step towards a lifelong career, and the importance of choosing a path right for each individual will make the journey truly enjoyable.
It’s important to note, however, that some enter college without having any idea what area of study they would like to focus on. And that’s ok! Many colleges and universities don’t require students to choose a major until their sophomore year. For the undecided, take this time to focus on interests and subjects where you excel.
Talk to administrators, counselors, or professors and peers – discuss interests and strengths – sometimes this is all it takes to explore a career path that may have otherwise been unfamiliar before. One of the most exciting aspects of college life is that it introduces people to new subjects and fosters new passions.
Acknowledging Personal Strengths and Weaknesses
A student’s passion is their North Star. However, being true to one’s capabilities is also an important criteria when deciding on a career path.
Acknowledging strengths helps individuals capitalize on their natural talents and interests, enabling them to excel in their chosen field of study. This can lead to higher academic performance, greater engagement, and a deeper sense of satisfaction. In doing so, students can make informed decisions about majors that allow them to leverage their abilities, leading to a more seamless and enjoyable learning process.
Additionally, recognizing weaknesses is equally essential. It helps individuals avoid pursuing fields that may not align with their skill set, preventing unnecessary challenges and potential burnout. Instead of being discouraged by weaknesses, acknowledging them allows students to seek support, develop strategies for improvement, or explore alternative paths that are better suited to their strengths.
Choosing a college major based on an assessment of both strengths and weaknesses enhances the likelihood of long-term success and fulfillment. It allows students to align their academic pursuits with their personal attributes, nurturing a strong foundation for future careers and endeavors.
Find the Best Fit
With a general idea of where to look, the next step is simply looking–learning what course of action each major will require. There are hundreds of options to choose from, and more crop up all the time. Some say the trick is exploration and having an open mind.
There can be pleasant surprises and disappointments, or ones that unexpectedly sparked interest after seeing and hearing what other students are doing on their path. Asking about another’s college major can be quite helpful in this regard.
Start With the End in Mind
It’s important to ask yourself, what do you envision doing after graduation? Be specific with these goals, and from there, work backwards.
To qualify for a certain job, what are the requirements needed? Does it need a license? Which degree allows me to prepare for the licensure exam? Is it enough to have a Bachelor’s degree, or is a postgraduate qualification necessary?
Aside from those questions, a good thought exercise is going forward 10 years into the future, then working backwards on how to achieve that ideal scenario.
Consider a Minor and/or Double Majors
Minoring in a field is similar to choosing a major, however, a minor does not require as many classes. Some students can’t decide on just one field of study – so, they choose two! A double major allows exploration in two distinct academic fields. With that being said, this will require double the workload as well, and is not for everyone. Most students find that just one major is more than enough.
In the journey of choosing the right college major, it’s undeniable that the path may be filled with uncertainties and complexities. The decisions made during these formative years may not solely dictate one’s future career trajectory, and that’s perfectly alright.
What truly matters is the process of self-discovery and exploration that comes along with this choice. By defining personal interests, engaging in conversations with mentors, and acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses, students pave the way for a future that aligns with their passions and abilities.
The act of introspection and seeking guidance not only ensures a seamless academic journey but also sets the stage for a fulfilling and satisfying career. As the diverse possibilities of majors unfold, students embark on a voyage of self-growth, equipping themselves with the skills and knowledge needed to shape their unique path toward success and happiness.
As students embark on their college journeys, how to choose a college major becomes a pivotal decision shaping their academic and professional paths. Amidst this exciting transition, it is equally crucial for them to stay connected with their childhood friends. Balancing the thrill of new opportunities and personal growth with maintaining cherished friendships requires deliberate effort.
It’s important to make time for regular check-ins, schedule virtual hangouts, and plan visits during breaks. By striking a balance between exploring academic interests and nurturing meaningful relationships, students can navigate college campuses and the overall experience with a sense of fulfillment and support from both their chosen majors and their lifelong friends.
Let’s explore a few ways to stay connected and nurture high school friendships across college distances.
Visit Each Other at University
In the process of traveling during college, one must engage in careful planning and budgeting. Booking in advance and searching for affordable flights are essential steps, while remembering to bring a sleeping bag can be beneficial. Visiting a friend at their college provides a unique opportunity to experience a different lifestyle and explore new locations, both within the country and abroad.
This experience also fosters a deeper connection with the friend, as one gets acquainted with their daily routine, living space, and social gatherings. Being a part of their new circle of friends allows for an integration into this significant phase of each other’s lives.
Start a Group Chat
A group of high school friends can easily stay in touch through a group message chain on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, TikTok, or other platform that allows for easy and free messaging.
A group chat can keep the conversation flowing at all hours, and allow for both quick check-ins or longer stories. Group chats can be a place to vent, get advice, share pictures, or even send a quick meme to brighten a friend’s day and remind them that you are always there for them – no matter how many miles are between you.
Schedule Video Chat Dates
The pandemic inspires the rise of Zoom, Skype, and Facetime gatherings – and it’s a perfect way to connect with friends from afar! Consider setting up regular video chats with friends. When looking for deeper ways to engage with the group, start a Zoom movie night or book club discussion, something you can look forward to from month to month.
Yes – hard copy letters! It might seem alien in our digital age, but receiving mail feels far more intimate and personal than a simple text message fired off in a moment of distraction. It also forces the writer to take their time and focus on their words, and it’s fun to include photos, comics, articles, or drawing that can be treasured forever.
Plan a Group Trip
With everyone scattered to the winds, it might make more sense to travel to a totally neutral location for a visit rather than pick one person’s college over the other. Consider making brand new special memories with your pals while vacationing together in a brand-new locale! Nothing says bonding like a road trip. Or perhaps pick an inexpensive location with a fun Airbnb for an affordable but memorable spring break adventure!
While it can be challenging to be separate from high school friends across college distances, with a little effort teens and young adults don’t have to totally lose touch.
About 87% of first-year college students have at least one roommate, usually in a dorm setting. A college roommate could become a friend or someone very hard to live with. On average, a roommate relationship is somewhere in between.
Not getting along with — or tolerating ‑— a roommate often makes the campus life experience even more difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few ways college roommates can live in peace.
As incoming college students embark on their academic journey, there are a few vital aspects they should consider: choosing a college major and building a positive relationship with their roommate.
Choose a Major
How to choose a college major is a significant decision that can shape one’s academic and professional trajectory. With a multitude of options available, it’s essential to approach the process of selecting a major with careful consideration and introspection.
Exploring various disciplines, taking introductory courses, and engaging in extracurricular activities related to their interests can provide valuable insights. Additionally, conducting informational interviews with professionals in fields of interest can offer valuable perspectives.
It’s crucial to keep an open mind and be willing to explore different areas before settling on a major. Seeking guidance from academic advisors, career services, and mentors can provide additional support in making an informed decision.
College campuses send a first-year student information about their dorm assignment and roommate in advance of the fall semester. To get a jump-start, reaching out to a roommate to introduce oneself as early as possible helps make the situation less awkward and begins a productive relationship in advance.
There’s also a practical benefit of reaching out early. Roommates can discuss what they plan to bring to college for their dorm and may be able to identify duplicates that are unnecessary, such as rugs or mini fridges. Some roommates-to-be even discuss general dorm room layout or the color of décor.
Good communication between roommates is invaluable. A good rule of thumb is to always run something by them first before acting. For example, one should ask if it would be OK to host a study group in the shared dorm room or watch a movie with a date.
Asking permission is also key if a roommate wants to use something belonging to the other roommate.
Come in With Realistic Expectations
Despite what’s portrayed in movies and TV, college roommates rarely become instant best friends. Sometimes the relationship will grow into friendship, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a friend and a roommate. Roommates may have different dispositions, classes, and general interests — and that’s OK.
Make a Studying Plan
When first-year students are not in the classroom, they’re studying. The library is a good option, but many prefer studying in the comfort of their dorm room. When you have two roommates that may be a problem if some form of studying rules is agreed upon.
This could mean designating quiet study times throughout the week that works well for both students.
Don’t Ignore Issues
Roommates never got along all of the time, but that typically results from petty arguments or small misunderstandings. If something is bothering someone, they should feel compelled to be open and honest with their roommate.
Yes, choosing one’s battles is still good advice, but talking out problems with a roommate shows courtesy and may lead to even more effective communication in the future.
Good roommates are self-aware roommates. Self-awareness can prevent arguments or makes one realize when a roommate needs some personal space. It can be easy to ignore bad habits, but with self-awareness roommates can focus on personal behaviors that may make living with them difficult — and then become flexible when it’s needed.
Starting college is an exciting time. It’s also scary, fun, nerve-wracking, liberating, and confusing.
For some, it feels like the beginning of the rest of their life. For others, it can feel lonely and overwhelming. For most, it’s all of the above.
As incoming college freshmen embark on their exciting journey of higher education, there are a few crucial things they should know to navigate this transformative chapter successfully.
One essential aspect is the college search process, where students explore and evaluate various institutions to find the right fit for their academic and personal aspirations. Conducting a thorough college search involves researching potential schools, considering factors such as academic programs, campus culture, location, and financial aid options.
It’s important for students to dedicate time and effort to this process, seeking guidance from counselors, visiting campuses, and connecting with current students to gain insights into the college experience.
By approaching the college search with diligence and an open mind, incoming freshmen can set themselves up for a fulfilling and enriching college journey that aligns with their goals and aspirations.
Don’t Ignore the Tour and/or Orientation
College tours are there for a reason. While incoming freshmen may feel they know enough about their school already and have spent months preparing, touring the campus, and attending new student orientation should never be missed. It gives students the chance to both explore campus on their own terms and also get all the official stuff done before classes begin.
That includes taking placement exams, signing up for classes, picking up textbooks, and setting up a laptop and other forms of essential technology. Orientations are also some of the best places to meet new people, especially those who may be living in one’s dorm or taking some of the same classes.
A Professor is Different from a Teacher
High school teachers are often focused on setting up students for a successful academic experience at college, but the fact is that working with professors is a whole new ball game. Professors still give students the tools to succeed, but classroom success very much depends on independent study, research, and more initiative than one had to offer in high school.
Professors are there to help — but only to a certain degree. They may not provide all the answers easily, but they will inspire students to find the answers themselves. In other words, college students are treated as adults.
It’s A Whole New Independent World
It’s true — college often comes with a rush of independence. Students wake up when they want, nap when they want, sleep when they want, eat when they want — and go to class when they want. Adulting comes quickly.
Much of freshman year is fine-tuning time management skills to be able to stick to a strict class schedule and stay organized. It’s tempting to slack off without parental supervision, but the real test of freshman year is how much sudden maturity a student can handle.
Freshman Year is What One Makes of it
And we don’t mean whether one studies hard enough to get all A’s. Starting freshman year, the college experience is totally up to the student.
Apart from pursuing academic interests and pushing oneself in classes with unfamiliar material, one’s college time depends on the effort put in to try new things, meet new people, and become involved on campus in everything from club sports and the college newspaper to peer mentoring and study abroad offerings.
College is not always a happy-go-lucky experience. There are temptations, including developing poor academic habits, drinking, or engaging in risky activities that put one’s safety and health at risk.
Don’t let that happen. College is a learning experience, but there are numerous ways to protect oneself from harm while still embracing college life and all that it has to offer.
Making My Mark as a First-Generation Latina in a Stem World
By Vanessa Liera
Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do as a career. All I knew was that I enjoyed math and science and had a spark of interest in robotics in 6th grade. During my junior year of high school, I had to start applying for colleges, and this meant I needed to decide what major I wanted to apply for. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future, but due to my spark of interest in robotics, I chose to pursue electrical engineering. At the time, I did not really know what engineering was or what electrical engineering consisted of. I only had one idea of what it might be and went with it.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I received an acceptance from UC Davis with a major in Electrical Engineering. This was a big deal because I’d be the first in my family to attend and graduate from a university. Being a first-generation student came with its own challenges but being a first-generation Latina in a male-dominated field came with even more challenges. I had to learn how to live independently, navigate college, balance the rigor of my courses, adapt to a new environment, find confidence in this field, and manage it all.
I struggled greatly during my first year of college. I remember coming out of my very first engineering class feeling like I got my first taste of imposter syndrome. For starters, I didn’t see a lot of Latinas or minorities in the room and began to feel intimidated. Then as we began to learn the material, the other students in the class seemed to understand the lecture and instructions when I could barely keep up. People knew answers to questions that I couldn’t even comprehend. I felt like I was already behind, and the class wasn’t even over yet. I thought to myself, “How do people know so much already?” “How am I already behind?” “Was I wrong for choosing this major?”
This was one of the many times I questioned myself and my position throughout my college career. Although it’s common to do, especially as a first-generation student, I shouldn’t have had to feel that way. I was never taught how to navigate and overcome that feeling, but I knew I had to make changes to succeed as a Latina engineer. I worked twice as hard as my peers to catch up and be where I wanted to be academically and professionally. I had to change my study habits, the way I approached my challenges, stop being afraid of asking for help, and stop comparing myself to others. I had to find what worked for me and accept that failure was a part of the process. I also realized that taking care of myself was even more important, so I prioritized taking breaks when I needed to and setting smaller goals that would get me through each day. I took it all one day at a time.
I also made a choice to get out of my comfort zone and get involved in organizations that would benefit me socially and academically. When I got involved with organizations that promoted diversity in STEM, I no longer felt like I was on this journey alone. I found people who felt the same way I did, and I began to build friendships with people in my classes. Being in these organizations motivated me to attend industry information sessions, apply for scholarships, and get to know my professors. Finding my community and confidence inspired me to help others find theirs, especially minorities within electrical and computer engineering. During my 3rd year in my undergraduate career, I co-founded my own organization, the Club of Future Female Electrical Engineers. This organization was made to be a support system for women in Electrical or Computer Engineering but welcomed anyone who supported the mission of creating an inclusive environment for all. I didn’t want anyone else to feel like they couldn’t pursue what they wanted, like they shouldn’t be in their earned position or like they simply didn’t belong. From this point on, I knew I wanted to help future generations of minorities in Engineering and other STEM fields in any way I could, even after college. I want to share my story and show them that anything is possible despite the hardships and challenges.
Although I made impactful adjustments that changed my college career for the better, I did wish I had known this and more before starting college. I would have liked to better understand engineering as a whole and what each type of engineering consisted of. Knowing this, I probably would have better prepared myself for the rigor and possibly the content of my major. I wouldn’t have felt so behind from the beginning because I would have been introduced to it beforehand and known what I was getting myself into.
With that said, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve received throughout my college career and after. Choosing to pursue Electrical Engineering was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because even though it brought big challenges, it has brought me to amazing people, new experiences, and a better future. I stopped letting fear get in the way of me chasing my dreams, and my life has turned out better than I could’ve imagined. I went from starting college with no prior knowledge of engineering to landing a job as a quality engineer right after graduation. So don’t let challenges scare you. They’re there to help you grow. I want to use my journey to help the next generation of minorities pursuing careers in STEM and be a resource for anyone who may be on a similar path so that they can build their own.
How did I get into college as a first-generation student with DACA status?
By Luis Peña Espinoza
College is a difficult journey for all who pursue it, but for some, the difficulty is much more than just being overwhelmed with what college to go to or major to pick. In the US, there are close to 700,000 DACA recipients. For this group of individuals, college may often seem like a far-fetched aspiration due to the barriers on the way. These barriers may often be because of financial burdens, legal status issues, language barriers, family pressure, and racial stereotypes . However, 25% of DACA recipients are currently enrolled in higher education as opposed to those challenges. . These are not unique success stories. This is a quarter of the total number of DACA students demonstrating the possibilities of pursuing higher education. Every DACA first-generation student has their own path to college, but I would like to share how I did it and the many possible ways you can go about it if you are in the same position I once was.
In April 2000, a boy was born in Baja California, Mexico. Three months later, his mom took him and his older brother to the other side of the border to Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up struggling to learn English but slowly got it and stayed in school. His parents decided to stay in Phoenix, have two more children, and find any available working jobs in hopes of building a good life together. That was my family, but the only problem with this was that most of my family was considered to have stayed in the country illegally, including myself. This caused a lot of issues, some I had yet to learn about until later in my life.
I grew up undocumented in the United States, which did not affect me much in my early life. My first school years were hard to adjust to since I only knew Spanish. It took me until I was seven years old to finally learn English. My next big difficulty in school came from my legal status, but it did not occur until much later in high school. During my freshman year of high school, I realized many things were unavailable to me. Everything that I signed started to require a social security number, which was something I did not have at the moment. I couldn’t drive legally since I couldn’t get a driving permit, nor could I get a job anywhere since I could not gain a workers permit. I could not do numerous things because of my documentation. The most heartbreaking thing was that I was not eligible for many scholarships since I was not a US citizen. It was a setback, but I did my best to get around it when possible. Fortunately, my sophomore year was when I received DACA, and many things improved greatly for me and my situation. I got a job, began driving, and was able to provide for myself and my family much more than before. I had new hope to continue my education, but it was still difficult because I was not a US citizen, a requirement for many scholarships. It wasn’t until my senior year that I became serious about applying for scholarships. Being a Latino minority, from a low-income family and community, first-generation immigrant, first-generation high school graduate, and having no friends or connection to anyone who has pursued higher education, college seemed incredibly daunting and overwhelming. I knew going to school was the easy part. Being able to afford it was the impossible side of it. Little did I know of the many unique resources and help I had access to in my community. I want you to know that going to school and being able to afford it is a realistic and attainable goal you can achieve regardless of the obstacles you have to go through.
Below, you will find a step-by-step guide I made to help you find scholarships. This is how I went about finding scholarships; hopefully, it can help someone else in need of guidance. I call it: “A Guide to Scholarship Success.”
Know your goals.
The first step to attending college is understanding your career goals and aspirations. Knowing what you’d want to pursue and what degrees and schooling are necessary for it helps you save wasted efforts and lost time. Depending on the field, there are various ways to be employed, from technical and vocational schools to potential internships that grow into full-time jobs without school. I chose Computer Science, a position that often requires the knowledge obtained through a degree, so I decided to go to school. However, a degree is not always needed depending on the job in Computer Science.
Choose a college you like considering cost and location.
Now that you know what you’d want to pursue in higher education, you can begin finding the best college for yourself. Before we go too deep into the scholarship pendulum, knowing how much money you are aiming for is helpful. A specific college in mind can also help narrow down scholarships by locating their specific resources and utilizing their University Admissions Counselor for help. I would heavily advise talking to someone at the school more knowledgeable on DACA and undocumented student affairs as some scholarships vary depending on the school. The international student’s office may often help with this.
Financial Aid – Applying for FAFSA (If Possible).
Applying for financial aid is of the utmost importance. Most scholarships and colleges use this to see if you qualify for specific grants or other financial help. This is the most common aid for college but remember that it is not the only one. If you are DACA, you can apply for FAFSA but will not receive any federal aid. I still applied to FAFSA to prove my financial need for a scholarship I later got. Undocumented students may not apply to FAFSA as they do not have a social security number.
Networking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The best way to apply and find scholarships is by asking people who have had that experience themselves! Counselors at your school are perfect for this but asking anyone will be a great way to gain different perspectives and approaches. Talk to someone about scholarship help. Some examples are High School counselors, College Admissions counselors, Friends, College Students, or even asking the GCU Learning Lounge (in case you decide to go to GCU). There are many people out there who would love to help you! I learned about my scholarships through friends who were also applying for them. Scholarships are challenging to filter through online as you must read deeply into the requirements before you find out if you’re even eligible to apply, which costs a lot of time better spent applying to another scholarship.
Know Yourself. What sets you apart helps you the most.
The most important thing about applying for scholarships is trying to stand out from the other applicants. Your personal life story is the way to discover what makes you different. Making a personal statement and refining it is a sure way to have scholarship essay material ready at
hand. Most scholarship essays will ask for a personal essay, so making a personal statement and constantly working on it is an excellent investment. DACA students and undocumented students often have similar stories, so it is crucial to get a second look from a teacher while working on your personal essays. Asking your English teachers can be a great place to start.
The Search: Focusing on finding the right scholarships.
The first step when searching for a scholarship is ensuring you meet the requirements and can apply. Again, use your resources by asking your friends and counselors for any scholarships they know of. Searching for in-state or college-specific scholarships is a great start. Many private schools offer great scholarships for DACA, first-gen and undocumented students. There are millions of scholarships and thousands of websites that post them. Try out several websites and stick with the ones that give you the best scholarships! I made this list full of different scholarship websites and college preparation programs in 2021.
Finding your niche. Having specific interests helps.
Knowing what you want to study is great to incorporate into your story when submitting applications. It also helps when it comes to specific majors and studies. Some schools offer more money to particular programs. Try making a list of what makes you unique as a person. You can use this information and reference it when applying for scholarships. Remember, there’s a scholarship for everything!
Recommendations. Ask for letters from your teachers.
More often than not, a scholarship may ask for a reference. Ask for one from counselors, teachers, or even family members who can make a good reference. It’s best to ask early to give them time to write well. Let them know the background of the scholarship it will be associated with or ask for a general recommendation. It is essential for the person recommending you to understand your strengths and aspirations. Please make sure they’re someone who will be comfortable and enthusiastic about writing about you!
Submit BEFORE the deadline.
After gathering all your material to be submitted to the scholarship application, do one more thing. Check your application to ensure everything is in order and satisfies you. Check for typos and formats, and even reread the application to be sure you did what was asked. Also, please submit sooner than later. This isn’t something that the scholarship council will hold against you, but you should always give yourself time to look through it one last time before submitting it.
Apply! Apply! Apply! – The more scholarships, the merrier.
Applying is the only way to be a candidate for scholarships! The more, the merrier! Think of this as a part-time job and try to dedicate hours to searching for more scholarships every week. Apply to as many scholarships as you can. From the big, medium, and small ones. Local, in-state, and international. They are all up for grabs and will assist you greatly. Financial scholarships are what we’re aiming for. There are also various resource programs and internships that can help you in your college aspirations too.
Don’t wait, Elevate.
While waiting to hear back from the scholarship you applied to there’s more that can be done in the meantime. Instead of waiting for a response on a scholarship, try to be productive. Reach out to the scholarship advisors to stay updated. Make sure your GPA and classes are doing well. Go through the guide to scholarship success and see if you can improve any steps. Apply for more scholarships while waiting.
Following these tips listed above allowed me to receive the Students Inspiring Students Scholarship in 2018 to pay for tuition and the Education Forward Arizona Scholarship to pay for housing and a meal plan which covered every cost I needed to graduate from college. This was the biggest goal in my life, so achieving it was a surreal moment.
I later applied for more scholarships during my freshman year, and I began receiving money back through stipends and was able to save up for items that would help me even more in my college journey. In April 2022, I graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and was the first in my family to graduate college!
Today, I work as a Software Developer in an apartment in Downtown Phoenix with my pet Husky, Luna. I have always been the type to pursue any opportunities that come my way, and I am currently working on a few projects outside my primary means of work. It feels great to be in the position I have dreamed of for many years. My greatest accomplishment was not graduating but being able to be an example to my family, cousins, and friends, who can look up to me when considering pursuing higher education. From where I’m from, not many people think about higher education, and even fewer pursue it. It was never a realistic goal for me to obtain a college degree due to my circumstances and obstacles. No wonder it feels like such a dream now to be in this position. I hope whoever is reading this can someday make their dreams come true as well.