So, you’re the first in your family to go to college . . .
The expectations. The unfamiliarity. The not knowing what to do or where to turn. Feeling lost and in unknown territory, as your high school years start to wind to a close, college is around the corner, and you fear you may not be ready for it. Being the first in your family to apply to college can be overwhelming, and it can leave you feeling more than a little stressed out. Where do you even start?
First step: take a breath. College applications aren’t as scary as they sound if you keep a calm attitude. People get scared when they try something they’ve never done before, even more so when they feel they have no one to help them. But don’t worry; there are people who can help. And as first-generation student, I should know.
When I started thinking about college, I had no one to show me the ropes. My parents were certainly very supportive, but they didn’t know about all the hard work that goes into the college search, the soul searching that had to be done in order to write a good personal statement, the organization process of keeping all of my due dates in check, and all of those visits to my counselor's office. For a while I was convinced I was completely on my own.
The thing is, I really wasn’t alone. I learned that the trick is to ask the right people: counselors, teachers, even fellow classmates. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to that one senior you know about what they did to start their college application process. Maybe their answer will help, maybe it won’t, but it definitely won’t hurt (or offend) to ask. In the world we live in, it’s pretty hard to do everything on your own, so speak up. And people like being helpful!
Another easy thing you can start to do is simply look for and research colleges. Even if you don’t know what types of colleges you prefer or what major to study or where you in the country (or world) you want to go, you can start forming an idea of what these things look like by seeing what’s out there. It also doesn’t hurt to start early. Use websites such as College Greenlight or CollegeXpress (hey, you made it!), simply research schools through their website. (While you’re there, you might even find some pretty cool scholarships too!)
A really helpful tool is also joining college preparation programs. For example, if you’re a junior living in Chicago, I would strongly recommend applying to Chicago Scholars, a program that not only helps you step by step through the college application process (seriously, they look at everything) but they help you after you’ve gotten into college as well. Ask your school counselor for information about programs that you can apply to and what you can do to get into them (some might require applications). Don’t be afraid to talk your counselor. No matter who they are, don’t let a bit of shyness stop you from going to a person that could have the answers to all of your questions! Counselors are there for a reason, and they’re there to help.
The key thing here is to keep calm and take that first step in your college search. Try not to freak out and turn away from the problem—I know I did for quite some time. Just take a breath. Find out what you want in a college, what you like, what you dislike, and keep going from there. Keep your perspective wide, and then start to narrow it down as you focus your interests. Find a support group, whether it be your friends, your counselor, or your parents. You’re not the only one applying for college; there’s someone out there that can help.