These are all the things the college website won’t tell you and every rich kid doesn’t need to worry about.
Affording a 4 Year College
If you are fortunate to attend a school like Harvard, whom now offers debt free admission to students from low income families, congrats! Everyone else needs a plan to navigate financial aid:
- Fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible. High school seniors, don’t wait to receive your acceptance letters to submit FAFSA. Filling out your FAFSA early improves your chances for state aid received. Your parents should file their 2015 Income Taxes ASAP, so you can fill out your FAFSA.
- Negotiate your financial aid…yes really. High school seniors, compare your financial aid packages from different schools. If you get a better financial aid offer from one school, let the other schools know and try to negotiate. Don’t be intimidated about being 18 years old and calling financial aid. I did it, and so can you. As the saying goes “Quien no llora no mama” (Who doesn’t cry doesn’t get the milk)! Your goal is to maximize your desired type of financial aid and avoid private loans, if possible.
Apply for Scholarships
Don’t just rely only school Financial Aid. Research and apply for scholarships. Two great resources are:
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund has been around for 40 years and one of the largest nationally available latino scholarships.
- UniGo Hispanic Scholarships: Lists over 22,000 scholarships worth $105 Million dollars eligible for Hispanics! Sign up for free and receive custom matches of scholarships.
Get Free Housing
Cutting your school housing costs can save you thousands of dollars in tuition bills. Most schools have RA (Resident Assistant) Positions. Becoming a R.A is a great opportunity to build community, and you get to live for FREE after freshman year in exchange for overseeing a college dorm. Most schools have a minimum GPA requirement of (3.0 GPA+) to apply. Look into the qualifications your freshman year and live rent free your last 3 years of college!
Free Tutors – They Exist
Universities offer a variety of free services to help each student excel- free tutoring is one of them. Make sure to research your options the first week of the semester. Even if your subject doesn’t offer free tutors, most classes offer TA (Teacher Assistant) office hours every week, where you can ask questions and get the extra help you may need. Remember the possible alternative is a bad grade or worse re-taking a class during summer school for thousands of dollars and possibly additional loans.
College may be the first time you are surrounded by a multitude of people from various socioeconomic backgrounds and some may have more money than you. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the comparison game. A good friend of mine accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt trying to impress his girlfriend, who grew up in a family of financial privilege. For many of us, being broke and a student go together like chocolate con pan. Be honest with friends when you can’t spend money.
- Credit card offers are everywhere in college. What you don’t know are banks assume most college students have parents who will pay off their credit card debt (which is why they are giving you credit cards even though you have no income). Now is a great time to establish credit but do it responsibly. Try to charge only what you can pay you bill on time or a few day prior to due date.
- Find a bit of home away from home. It’s important to find ways to keep a bit of home with you as you transition into college. For me this meant my mom shipping platanos to campus once a month and joining the Latino Association on campus. Many colleges have now started first generation college student clubs. If your school doesn’t have a first generation club, think about founding one. There are other students on campus going through the same experience- find them.
- Expand your social circle. College is your opportunity to experience new things and meet new people. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Orientation is a great time to gather information about clubs on campus and other activities that may interest you. Consider studying abroad, take an interesting elective, volunteer or join a new club that will completely expand your worldview. Do it!
Please share your tips and experiences about being a first generation college Latino in the comments section below. Congrats to all the aspiring and current college students. Adelante!