how to pay for college
September 10, 2015 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a kid I’ve been mentoring: I’m a Senior this year. I’m the first one in my family to apply to college. If you work in college admissions or college counseling, could you explain how financial aid, student loans and scholarships work?

My dad’s a mechanic and my mom’s a waitress. I’ve always liked to read and I do pretty well in school. I’ve gotten straight A’s since 8th grade. We took the SAT’s last year and I think I did okay with the reading and writing and not great with the math. My scores were: Reading: 730; Math: 640: Writing: 680. For as long as I can remember, my mom has been telling me that college is the way out, the way to a better life. She’d rather work a second job than let me work after school, because she wants me to focus on my homework.

I know there are things like scholarships and financial aid and student loans out there, because when a tv character is supposed to be really smart, it always turns out that they had a “full ride” scholarship, like Sam on Supernatural. But that’s about all I know about it. I’m not expecting to get a full ride anywhere or anything. I’d just like to know more about how to pay for college.

I’m in Colorado at a big public high school, and I think we have a college counselor, but my class has 625 people, so I don’t even know if I can see her by myself or if she’s just going to make big presentations to us.

If you work as a university admissions person or college counselor, could you explain to me how I find and apply for scholarships and student loans? I’ve heard that sometimes schools offer financial aid to students. Sorry for the dumb question, but is that the same thing as a scholarship or is that something else? If so, how do I apply for that too?
posted by colfax to Education (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Look into what you will need to fill out the FAFSA form. Schools use this form to determine your family's ability to pay for college; this is how financial aid is awarded.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:50 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: You will do a FAFSA application this January, and send it to all of the schools that you have applied to (apply to several different schools, INCLUDING COMMUNITY COLLEGES). In around March, each school that you have been admitted to will mail you an estimated financial aid award, with whatever they can offer you based on your family's finances (here is a pdf example of one of the standard ones). This estimated award will include estimated tuition expenses as well as room and board. Compare the expenses to the amount of free money you will get (grants and scholarships). The difference is what you will have to make up for in loans. Use that final loan figure to help determine which school is the best for you, financially speaking.


Talk to each school's financial aid office, and see who does the merit-based awarding. Start asking them about the process, and what you can do to be considered for those merit-based scholarships (scholarships based on GPA, personal stories, etc.)

A huge expense for students is using loans to pay for on-campus housing. If finances are a concern, and you want to keep your loan debt low, consider living at home with your parents at least through the first couple of years, and focus your scholarships and loans on paying for tuition/fees/books only.

Your school will be hosting some financial aid/FAFSA nights in January or February. Go to those, and bring your parents - there will be financial aid counselors there to answer your questions.

Search for outside scholarships:, These are tools to find private scholarships from outside of your college or highschool that will apply to any college you go to.

Have a conversation with your parents about their expectations for helping you out: Do they have any money set aside for your tuition? Will they be willing to cosign a loan for you if necessary? Will they be okay with you living at home with them for another year or so?

Finally: I strongly encourage you to look for a community college in your area with a strong transfer curriculum to one of your larger state/public universities. You can pay the much smaller tuition for the community college, and then transfer into the more expensive four-year college in year three. You will save a ton of money on tuition, but you still end up with the exact same bachelor's degree .
posted by Think_Long at 6:56 AM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For sure start with the FASFA, which is the universal way that (almost all) schools figure out Financial Aid.

"Financial Aid" is generally the big, overreaching term that refers to all the money that a school will give or loan to you to help you pay for college. "Scholarships" are one type of financial aid. This is money that the school gives you to help you pay for college. Scholarships can either be "need-based" (i.e. the less money your family makes, the more money the school gives you) or "merit-based" (i.e. the better grades you get in high school, the more money the college gives you). It seems like many colleges shift their scholarships towards need-based rather than merit-based these days, although merit-based scholarships do still exist. Scholarships do not need to be paid back. Another type of financial aid is loans, which do need to be paid back over some time after you graduate from college. These can either be loans that you take out or loans that your parents take out.

The top top tier colleges (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, etc.) have generally been moving towards having students (and their parents) take out very few loans and mostly giving need-based scholarships. If you are able to get into one of those places, that would be great.

You should absolutely go talk to a college councilor. You never know if they will see you individually if you don't try; my experience is that, most of the time, they are very happy to meet with students. I think this is really important. I'm convinced that one of the biggest differences in college attendance for first-generation college students vs. second- third- and forth-generation college students is how aggressive their parents are in seeking out good schools for their children to go to and really understanding how the "system" works. Take every opportunity you can to educate yourself about the system.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:02 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your dream is the traditional 4-year living in a dorm college experience (and that's a very good dream, it was my dream!), I strongly encourage you to apply to your state universities. I sort of felt that high school guidance counselors often steered kids to private schools for pretty tenuous reasons (like they were an alum) and unless you're getting offered admission to Harvard, I don't think the insane cost of private colleges is usually particularly worth it. State school is expensive enough!
Some people will tell you that you'll get "lost" in a big state school or whatever, but you've already proven yourself to be a self-motivated and capable student. I went to a huge state university, but my program and classes after freshman year were small, I made awesome friends, and I'm now a productive member of society.
posted by cakelite at 7:02 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: "Financial aid" covers a lot of things. There are scholarships, which can be from an outside party (e.g. Coca-Cola Scholars) or from your university. Then there are grants, which can be from the government, like a Pell Grant, or from your school. You don't have to pay anything back for scholarships or grants. Loans are next. All of the ones I have are from the federal government, but there are also private student loans from banks (avoid these!). You have to pay loans back with interest. Federal loans have income-based repayment plans that can help keep payments manageable. Also, repayment on these doesn't start until you aren't enrolled in school anymore.

However, you should submit applications to schools before worrying too much about scholarships. Decide where you'd like to apply and see if they have merit-based scholarships you can apply for when you submit your application. Cast a wide net! Your scores are very good, so don't be afraid to apply to top schools. Places with high tuition often end up costing less because of programs to get lower income students to come. For example, at Duke, if your parents' total annual income is under $40,000, you wouldn't have to pay anything or take out any loans. It would be covered by Duke. They also limit your loan amounts based on income. If your parents make under $85,000, the maximum loan amount Duke would give you would be $4,000 per year. The rest would be scholarships and grants. Other top schools have similar programs. The thresholds change from year to year, so you'll want to do your own research.

You'll want to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines how much federal aid you're eligible to receive. Some schools also want the CSS profile, which goes more in depth. My parents did this for me every year. It requires a lot of financial information (income, taxes, bank statements, assets, etc.). Make sure your parents will have this information available. You won't need to do these until next spring though. The FAFSA is free, but you have to pay to submit the CSS profile. You can apply for a fee waiver if it will be a financial hardship. Many universities also have application fee waivers, which could help if you want to apply to several schools.
posted by fluffymag at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Financial aid can come in the form of loans that you will pay back; grants/scholarships that you do not pay back; and work study which is a part-time job that is usually a better paying job and more flexible than you could get on your own.
Here is more information and explanations for the state of Colorado.

There are also many smaller scholarships that you can apply for--these can be from organizations local to where you live--like the local business clubs or from national organizations related to a particular community or field.

Your parents will need to fill out paperwork related to their financial status--and will need to make their income tax forms available to help to show their status. This was the hardest part for me to work on-- getting my parents to fill out their income tax early enough for them to also fill out the FAFSA. There may be seminars for first-time college families or at local community centers or schools.

Another thing that helped...when i did get a work study job, I worked at the college's Financial Aid Office.
One benefit is that we received our financial aid checks first, another benefit was that I was able to get to know how the process worked and who the best Aid Counselors were.
posted by calgirl at 7:14 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: I would absolutely look at applying for scholarships, as they don't have to be paid back. If you are in Denver, you could start by calling the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Even if you aren't in Denver, you could still call them and ask if they are aware of any foundations or scholarship clearinghouses that service your area. You could also look at the scholarship page on the College in Colorado website. Even if your high school guidance counselor is busy, I'd try pretty hard to get in to see him/her early, as they can at least direct you to the right organizations to check out.
posted by megancita at 7:36 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are going to want your parents to do their taxes in early February. Most schools have a March 1 or April 1 cut off for the FAFSA. If your parents get their taxes done early you can import the data you need online into the FAFSA, which makes that form much easier to complete. If not, you have to do it all by hand and estimate.

Also, look for scholarships. There are millions and millions of dollars available to help students that do not flow through the colleges. Local groups will sponsor scholarships, alumni groups, local businesses, etc. Check with your parents employers as they may have scholarships available for kids of employees. If you come from a specific ethnic background or are a minority look for scholarships that may apply. Note - most of these scholarships will be smaller. However, you string together a few $1500 scholarships and your is tuition covered for a semester.

Also, I wrote a blog post last year based on what I learned from watching my daughter go through this process.
posted by COD at 7:39 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: These colleges guarantee to meet full need. Disclaimer: individual colleges get to define what your need is, and you have to be accepted.

Colleges are required to have a Net Price Calculator.

The forums at College Confidential are worth checking out.
posted by oceano at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: Hello high school senior: Did anyone tell you that your SAT scores put you in the top 5% nationwide? You are amazing and colleges should be recruiting you!

You should be applying to the most competitive colleges. Coincidentally, they tend to be the ones with the most scholarship money. If you're female, consider applying to some of the top women's colleges.

You need some serious one on one advising because you- yes you!- have so many options. If your high school's college counselor doesn't have time for you talk to your favorite teachers. talk to the librarian at your public library. Talk to any college-educated adult you trust.

If I were anywhere near you I would offer to help you in person (I'm a college librarian and a mom) but feel free to memail me with specific questions.
posted by mareli at 7:43 AM on September 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

//You should be applying to the most competitive colleges.//

Yes, but don't rule out the 2nd level colleges either. Every top 5% SAT kid in Colorado will apply at U of Colorado. Many of them won't bother with a directional school like Northern CO. However, for what you want to study, Northern CO may be a perfectly good school. That is what happened to my daughter. The top tier schools offered her good scholarships, a State U school that isn't quite on that national level offered her a full-ride. She is doing great, and having a blast, and just got asked by a professor to help with a research project. Your odds on snagging a large scholarship may be a little better at the smaller schools too.
posted by COD at 7:52 AM on September 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I was in a really similar situation in high school. I have a Ph.D. now. Sometimes I can't believe that. You can do it!

Being proactive will put you well ahead of most of the people around you. I cannot stress this enough: adults who see teens taking stuff on themselves are a million times more likely to help compared to kid whose parents are doing all the work (or demanding that other people do the kids' work for them!). So find your guidance counselor office. Ask to make an appointment. At the appointment, start with the exact question you have written here. Also, ask what other resources they have: they may give presentations, but they also may have lists of local scholarships available that you can apply for to help with college, guides to colleges in the region, reading material with career ideas (I remember I was able to take an online aptitude test in my guidance counselor's office.) Guidance counselor.

Next step: If you've taken the SAT's, you will probably be getting a gigantic pile of pamphlets from schools in the region soon, if you haven't already. Don't worry too much about costs yet; my experience with schools is that the "lower tier" and "upper tier" will probably be the most helpful financially (the lower tier because you're a *very* good student, the upper tier because they have deep pockets for students with financial need.) After you talk to the guidance counselor and your parents, have a think about what schools or programs appeal to you. Keep in mind that many community colleges, while not so sexy, are "feeder schools" to higher-tier universities, and that is a relatively inexpensive path to an impressive-looking degree. I work at an Ivy League school that actively recruits students from the local CC. Look through the pamphlets.

Sometime this winter after your parents do their taxes, fill out a FAFSA form. Ask them to do their taxes ASAP this year; it's great that they're on board. Fill the FAFSA out super carefully--I made a mistake and it took forever to fix. The FAFSA form will make some mysterious calculations and come up with a number that it deems "what this family can afford." The schools you get into will add this number into their own mysterious calculation that also includes how much they want you to come, and how much they can afford to offer you, and will make an offer of financial aid. In my case this was 1/3-1/8 of the official "tuition", depending on the school (my numbers on paper were slightly worse than yours, and I'm guessing my parents were in a similar income bracket). The aid package will list a combination of federal student loans which you'll pay back after you finish your education, work-study money (usually working in the dining hall to start with), or straight-up money from the school.

Financial aid from the college is one piece of the paying-for-college puzzle. There are also scholarships from outside sources that I mentioned upthread. Are you a Scout, or a member of an ethnic and/or underrepresented minority, or are your parents part of any national groups, or do you have a plan for an unusual highly valued career path? Google the heck out of those things and see if any scholarships pop up. The most common, easiest-to-get ones are usually 1-2k per year. There are also private loans, which are awful and predatory and sometimes necessary. I managed without them, one of my sisters has some.

Money saving measures: Be aware that: it's often cheaper to live off-campus but commuting and cooking are a drain on your time, which is also valuable. Books will be 500-600$/year. Working in the dining hall means free meals, and most dining halls allow you to leave with a piece of fruit, and the dining hall usually pays best. There will be work study jobs that pay less but are so quiet that you can get some homework done. There are usually a variety of meal plans and housing of different prices.

Sorry for the novel, I feel strongly about this stuff. You're welcome to PM me; especially if you have questions about a career in science and/or teaching.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:55 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might be eligible for special support (either in the form of scholarships or other resources) because you are a first-generation college student. Also, check with admissions offices to see if there are any special programs (or scholarships) for first-generation students. My alma mater, Grinnell College in Iowa, I know had special orientation for first-gen students and also some other events/support type services.

One other thing: I think it makes sense to apply to a variety of "types" of schools (community colleges, state universities, selective liberal arts colleges...). Selective schools are often very expensive on paper but can usually offer more financial aid, so that the net cost to you and your parents is comparable (or lower) than other options. Don't be discouraged from applying to a school you think is interesting just because the sticker price is high.

A few other things that might not be obvious in the application process (besides financial aid):
1. Also depending on your family's financial resources, you may be able to get college application fees waived. The school will be able to tell you whether and how this is possible.
2. Different schools may have different requirements for their applications that you shouldn't let blindside you. They may require an additional essay or two, for example. It's probably a good idea to spend some time noting these deadlines/requirements as you research schools so you don't forget.
3. You'll need to get letters of recommendation from teachers. Sometimes schools want teachers in different subjects (like a letter from a English teacher AND a math/science teacher or whatever). Try to ask for those early (well in advance of application deadlines...)

Good luck!
posted by dismas at 9:11 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Congratulations!

1) Your school college counselor is there for you, my friend. Even if he/she doesn't routinely make appointments with students, my bet is that if you ask, he/she will make one with you, and you can ask all of these questions.

2) FAFSA, which is 100% absolutely necessary for school based financial aid.

3) Check out Fastweb, the Denver Scholarship Foundation if you're in Denver, etc. Even small scholarships will help (I got one for $200 my senior year of HS that paid for all my books for the semester) and usually only require you to spend a little time writing a personal statement (let's say you spend 2 hours on a personal statement that you tweak to apply to 3 scholarships and get a total of $300 out of it--that's a return of $150 an hour).

4) Don't be afraid of high sticker prices on tuition--a lot of the schools with the highest tuition also offer the best financial aid.

5) DEFINITELY apply for application fee waivers, which will make the cost of applying to schools much easier to take.

5) On the off chance that you're interested in medical school after college, feel free to PM me.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:22 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: Straight-A student and 95th percentile SAT scores - from a working class background and a low-quality public school? Community college should not be in the discussion - neither should directional state. (UC Boulder should be.) Honestly, applying to some top-20ish private universities might well be worth it.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m not expecting to get a full ride anywhere or anything.

You should be. Your test scores already put you in a very elite group of students, and you have an extremely compelling personal story. You should be looking for a full scholarship that covers tuition, living expenses, fees, and books. If you apply to the right schools, you are just the sort of person who is likely to be able to go to college entirely for free.

First, find out whether or not you can get a private meeting with your school's college counselor. Email her now, or go to her office and ask if you can make an appointment. The worst they can do is say no.

In fact, that should be your motto throughout this entire process: always ask for what you want and need, because the worst they can do is say no. I think that a lot of kids underestimate the degree to which adults really do want to help you, especially if you are polite and motivated and willing to work hard, which you seem to be. No one is going to be mad at you for asking for help, and even if they end up saying no, they'll be impressed by your initiative.

Next, along those same lines, start looking through that list of "need blind" colleges that oceano posted above. You can even call each one of them (or as many as you're interested in) and ask their admissions staff whether there are any resources available to students who are applying as first-generation college students (that's going to be a phrase you see a lot, and it refers to most students whose parents do not have college degrees) or for students with financial need in the application process.

With those test scores, you're going to start getting brochures in the mail from colleges. Read them all. Dare to dream. Don't pay attention to the listed tuition prices, because you're focused on finding a school that will give you enough financial aid that you won't be paying those prices. As someone said above, the schools that charge the other students with rich parents $50k a year are the ones who are most likely to be able to afford to give you a full scholarship. But you should apply to a lot of schools. Maybe make a list of which schools are both need-blind and accept the Common Application, so that you can apply for as many schools as possible without having to fill out so many individual applications.

You and your family are doing all the right things so far. You're studying hard, and you're reaching out to ask for help from adults around you who have been through this process before, including your mentor. Applications are mostly due in December, so you'll want to make sure you're ready to start applying within the next month or two, but you're right on schedule right now. You deserve to go to college, and you deserve to do it without putting financial strain on your family or ending up in massive debt. And based on what you've told us, it seems to me pretty likely that if you put in the work, you're going to be able to do that. Full-ride scholarship is the name of the game, and you're the absolute perfect candidate to get one from a great school somewhere.

Good luck! And feel free to reach out to me if I can help. I work with a lot of kids who have never applied to college before, so I've done some work helping kids go through this process. Happy to help or give advice if I can.
posted by decathecting at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

1) Network network network. Talk to professors, students, recent grads, everything. Your HS guidance counselor is just one resource, and it sounds like not even a great one. Many professors at schools you are applying to would be willing to take you under their wing, and recent grads can let you know how their job search went. This is not the time to be shy. I've gotten random emails about career paths from across the country, and I always try to respond honestly.

2) You probably won't get a full ride (those are pretty rare), but you probably will get very deeply discounted tuition at many private schools. I know people like you who paid $5000 a year to go to an elite liberal arts school, which sounds like a lot of money, but is really an amazing deal for what you get. It's worth applying to as many as you can since this can be pretty much random.

3) My guess is that Colorado state schools have good scholarship programs for students like you too, but they're hard to find out about and require bundles of paperwork. At least that's the case for my state.

4) If you do go to a state school, you should be eligible for the "Honors College" or equivalent, which is a really great benefit. Be sure to apply for that.

5) Most colleges only require you to declare your major by the start of your junior year. BUT many of the more lucrative, technical majors -- computer science, physics, finance, premed -- pretty much require you to start in your freshman year in order to get all the classes done. One of these majors would be a REALLY good idea, especially since you'll have some loans to pay off. So NOW is the time to start thinking about your major.
posted by miyabo at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2015

Go for a full ride!
There are a few private colleges that are tuition-free.
The five United States Service Academies are also free, although four of them require military service after graduation. The fifth, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, does not require military service.
posted by Ardea alba at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: Keep the end game in mind: You and your family need to be able to pay for ~4 years of college. Each year, tuition will increase (although it's possible other costs like room and board will decrease). Most outside scholarships are for 1 year (typically freshman year only). Thus, make sure the college budget has "growing room" for increased costs for future years.

Questbridge is probably worth checking out. Also Coca-Cola scholars.

This thread is a few years old but worth checking out as well.

You did well on the SAT, but be aware that some folks do better on the ACT. (Another advantage with the ACT is that many colleges don't require SAT subject tests with ACT scores). Also did you know that many students take the SAT/ACT multiple times and prep specifically for these tests? Your public and school libraries should have some SAT/ACT practice guides and other references about the college application process.

Colleges that offer need based institutional aid often require the CSS Profile. This form is shall we say... much more "involved" and will require getting parents on board early.
posted by oceano at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The great thing is that more and more higher-tier colleges are committed to loan-free financial aid for students with family incomes below a certain amount. Here is a list .

Now, student loans are not the best things in the world; but be aware that at 5% interest, $20,000 of loans works out to less than $250 a month in payment. So I don't recommend you do any sort of program where you have to borrow more than that; but also be aware that borrowing five, ten, even fifteen thousand dollars is not necessarily a ticket to debt slavery. Another better thing is that you will be told the actual interest rate on any loans you take out; in my day we were required to promise to pay without knowing rates.

You are very smart and have good test scores; but you should be aware that the amount of "merit aid" out there is not huge, compared to full tuition bills. What you are most likely to get is "need aid" at higher-tier schools--merit aid is more likely to make a difference at state schools. So what I'm saying is, don't bust your ass and put in hours and hours of work for a shot at a $500 scholarship from the local Oddfellow's Lodge, if that time is better spent putting together a really good college application from a school rich enough to give you need-based aid--especially if any merit aid you get will come out of your need-based aid.

Please also be aware that although many schools have application fees, they will often waive those application fees for students under a certain income level. Do not be deterred from applying to many schools because of fees. Each college's application website can give you further details about any application fees.

When you are at school, you should think beyond basic work-study. Many schools have "blue collar" work study jobs in fast food, maintenance, etc. Not for you. You need to look for a white-collar work-study job. That way you'll leave college with work experience, contacts, and recommendations in professional environments. You will gain an understanding of how to behave in these environments, some background in interesting fields, and probably a lot of useful skills too--many departments are happy to have a work study student post to their blog and maintain their website.
posted by Hypatia at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unlike loans, grants are money you don't have to pay back. Grants can come from colleges themselves or state/federal governments. Typically loans are through the federal government or private lenders. To make a long story short, it is almost always a bad idea to take out a private loan for college. Try to borrow as little money as possible for college.

In general, colleges offer their own money (or institutional aid) for scholarships based on two factors: need (based on the family's financial resources) and merit (based on academic achievement). Some colleges offer need based aid only, while others do more of a mix. Harvard is a school that gives need based aid only. So someone who has a full ride from Harvard is very smart because s/he got into Harvard, and got a full ride because s/he came from a family with low financial resources. Harvard wouldn't give a full ride (or any amount of institutional aid) to someone from a very wealthy family. Other schools give merit scholarships for academic achievement only and do not look at family resources.
posted by oceano at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2015

Also, there is a great difference not only between federal loans and private loans--but between subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans. With subsidized loans, the federal government will pay the interest on your loans while you are in school. With unsubsidized, the interest is your responsibility so you must either pay it during school or have it added to your principal. You are likely to be eligible for unsubsidized.
posted by Hypatia at 2:10 PM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: A few more ideas...

I suggest checking out the college counseling office to see what resources it does have. Perhaps the office has a binder full of scholarships that you could sort through. The public library might also have some resources for college applicants.

I suggest creating a professional, yet generic gmail account specifically for the college application process. (For instance This account will be spammed for eternity; do not give college websites more of your personal information than necessarily.

There are lots of college search engines out there. I think College Mapper is of particular interest since it is possible to search specifically for colleges that have an open house/ fly in program.
posted by oceano at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2015

Also, if you have any idea about what kind of career you might like after college, be aware that many professional organizations offer scholarships. These are more likely to be a factor after your freshman year and to run between $500 and $2,000.
posted by maurreen at 4:29 PM on September 10, 2015

If you go into tech, most internships are paid $20-25 an hour. I made $15k in my last summer at college. My current workplace pays undergrads $20/hr, 20 hrs/week during the school year (full time on breaks) and guarantees a full time offer after graduating if you meet certain benchmarks... it's a pretty sweet deal and some of the interns make 30k a year and graduate with little or no debt.
posted by miyabo at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2015

If your mentee is in Denver and attends a DPS high school, then yes look into the Denver Scholarship Foundation scholarship to check eligibility AND have your mentee visit the Future Centre at their school. The Future Center is operated by DSF and its entire purpose is to help kids understand the college process . Also look into Goodwill's youth programs, I know someone who works for Goodwill and teaches classes about this at a large DPS high school.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:26 PM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: There are resources available to you on the college campus as well. If you know which college you will attend and are accepted you can begin using their resources immediately (while still in your senior year.)

Also consider a program called "Student Support Services" which is a grant colleges receive from the government, called TRiO. SSS/TRiO is a supplement to your college experience and includes services like: financial aid application assistance; qualifies you for free tutoring (or pays for a tutor if the college doesn't have one for your particular class;) peer mentoring; workshops on budgeting (and other much needed skills for the under-experienced student;) food pantry; computer lab; social/cultural events; leadership development; and community resources.

These people specialize in helping students from first-gen households who are also low-income (I do not know what your parent's taxes look like, you may or may not qualify.) You will find very dedicated staffers who are used to stretching a buck and know how to help someone in your exact shoes. You can pop into the SSS/TRiO office at your local university too and ask them some questions before you get started, they should have a handle on local resources that can help you.

Others have offered to help and I am, too, please email me anytime. I am a first-gen student myself and was lucky to have been a part of SSS. I also worked as an adviser to students transferring in from a community college. There's bound to be something I can help with : )
posted by MansRiot at 6:46 AM on September 11, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the help, everyone!
posted by colfax at 6:27 AM on September 13, 2015

Response by poster: I sent this thread to my mentee, and she asked me to send this on to you:

Please tell the people at Metafilter: thank you thank you thank you! I'm sort of surprised and overwhelmed by all the responses. I'm not used to strangers, or people on the internet, being so willing to help. You've given me a lot to think about. I hadn't realized my scores were so high. I guess I'm so used to getting A's in school that scoring in the 83rd percentile for Math seemed sort of bad to me. It's nice of people to say that I should apply to places like Duke, but honestly I thought I was aiming high when I was planning on applying to CU-Boulder. It's sort of hard to explain, but some of you said you've been where I am now, so maybe you'll understand. Even if they accepted me and made it affordable, how do I get up the nerve to go to a place like that? I've never even been on an airplane before.
posted by colfax at 4:05 AM on September 15, 2015

Best answer: You might find it interesting to read up on the concept of undermatching.

Also see the links in this Metafilter post about the College Scorecard.

One can visit college campuses before one applies or after one is accepted (or both). As I mentioned in an earlier post, some colleges do provide some form of financial assistance to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds visit campus. Some schools offer interviews either in your local area by an alum or at the college by admissions staff.

Try searching Youtube for for "college name." This can help you get a feel for the campus, before you set foot on it.

I strongly urge you to apply for Questbridge; the deadline is coming up at the end of September. It's an amazing opportunity.

I would also encourage you to add Colorado College to your list of Colorado based colleges. I've also heard really great things about the professors at Fort Lewis College, so maybe check out their net price calculator?

Feel free to PM me with any questions.
posted by oceano at 11:08 PM on September 15, 2015

Best answer: Dear future college student: A lot of colleges have special support programs for people like you, people who are members of the first generation in their family to go to college. Here, for instance, is one at Northern Arizona University; and here's one at MIT.

As you check out colleges look for such programs, they will help you feel less-intimidated. And again, I would urge you to consider some of the best women's colleges, like Mount Holyoke, Smith, Wellesley.
posted by mareli at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2015

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