College Search Help for Disadvantaged Students

by
CollegeXpress Student Writer, Stanford University

For low-income, first-gen, or otherwise disadvantaged students, the college search can be even harder. Luckily, there’s also lots of help.

When you come from a low-income family, or when you’re the first in your family to go to college, pursuing education past high school seems like a pipe dream. But what many of those socioeconomically disadvantaged students don’t know is that there are many programs and schools dedicated to admitting students—no matter where they come from.

Related: Scholarships for first-generation and low-income students

Academic and standardized test help

Before you can choose between college acceptances, you have to start by making sure you’ve laid the right foundation. That means maintaining good grades, typically A’s and B’s, and getting your standardized tests done. Those are both obvious burdens all students carry, but it’s important to remember that they’re vital pieces of your college admission puzzle.

If you come from a low-income household, a helpful tip to get your testing done and paid for is through fee waivers, which you can talk to your guidance counselor about and they can help you get them. These fee waivers can be attained if you qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch or by meeting a minimum income requirement, depending on how many people are in your household.

If you’re struggling to keep your grades up for whatever reason, talk to your teachers, guidance counselor, and extended family. Be sure to mention if you’re having trouble finding time to study because of things working a part-time job or if your home life is really stressful. Listen to their suggestions, and see how they can help. Also look for other ways to get academic support if you can, like free tutoring services through your school, town library, free websites and apps, or local nonprofits.

Whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short in your college search!

College admission programs and advising

Once you enter your junior year and you’ve dedicated ample time to both your grades and your tests, you can start looking into programs specifically for students coming from a financially burdened background. Your school might offer a program like Trio, GEAR UP, or something related.

But there are some high schools, like the one I came from, that don’t offer these programs. Then it’s up to you. I took it upon myself to find QuestBridge, a college-prep program that socioeconomically disadvantaged students can apply for. QuestBridge helps high school students through the college admission process their senior year.

If you join QuestBridge as a junior, they can even help you find pre-college summer programs that pay for promising students to attend. Often, the colleges and universities that work with these programs are in the top to middle tier and can afford to fly students to them because they have a great alumni base they receive donations from. Participating in college-prep programs at those schools can be extremely helpful to all students, but especially to those who come from a low-income background and/or lack guidance on their trek toward higher education.

This brings me to another factor that can play a huge role in the disadvantaged student’s future: pre-college programs. There are many programs that students have to pay to attend, which is what causes many financially burdened students to shy away from searching for any to go to. In reality, there are many that will pay for you to attend or will offer you scholarships, including renowned schools like Stanford and Princeton. It really just takes the time to search and apply for them.

Related: Help for Underserved Students: Taking Advantage of College Support Programs

College fly-in programs and campus visits

My QuestBridge and summer program mentors also encouraged students to attend college fly-in programs. These are special campus visit events that typically last a weekend. The best part about them is that if you get accepted, the school will pay for you to fly and visit!

You can potentially see multiple types of schools, and it gives you the chance to figure out where you might fit in best. Many of these programs also offer insight into the application process their school uses too. This helps you understand how to make your application the most competitive that it can be when the time to apply finally comes. A fly-in visit looks great on your college applications too, because it shows you’ve been diligent in your college search and that you’ve taken the schools on your list very seriously.

Also, even if you don’t participate in a college fly-in visit, you may be able to get financial help with your “regular” campus visits. For example, a closer school might send you a stipend to cover travel costs or an application fee waiver. Or they may just work more closely with you to help you find local resources that will help you get to know the school better, like connecting you with an alumnus in your hometown. The point is you never know what kind of help you might get unless you ask.

Need-blind and holistic review schools

This finally brings me to your senior year! When you’re choosing colleges and universities to apply to, keep an eye out for need-blind schools and/or schools that participate in the holistic application review process. Need-blind colleges and universities review your application without taking into consideration how much financial aid you would need to attend if you were admitted. Where some colleges and universities could turn you away if you would need more financial aid than a student with similar profile as you, need-blind schools will not. Holistic review schools are just as amazing in that they look at you as more than a set of numbers. They look beyond your GPA and test scores to truly evaluate the story you tell them with your jobs, extracurricular activities, and background. They may take into consideration that you may not have done as well in a class as others because you were working to help support your family or similar situations.

All of these programs and systems are extremely helpful for socioeconomically disadvantaged students and make attending a college or university attainable for anybody. 

What college-related programs, resources, or other tools would you recommend for socioeconomically disadvantaged students? Leave a comment and let us know.  

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