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March 22, 2022 4:43 AM   Subscribe

I’m about to do some pro bono college advising for a small group of low-income HS students. I’ve actually done a lot of college advising, but this was back in the early 2000s, when I could largely rely on my own experience (HS class of ‘95). What should I read to get myself back up to speed on the process? Cost is no issue because I’ll look for free resources once I myself am oriented. Thanks!
posted by 8603 to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have some negative advice: Don't use the US News and World Report's annual college/university ranking. It's bs.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:41 AM on March 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are working with first generation college students, look into campus supports to help students find their tribe and not white-knuckle their experience. A lot has changed in this area to support degree completion. I work down the hall from McNair Scholars, Meyerhoff Scholars, and Upward Bound programs.
posted by childofTethys at 7:02 AM on March 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

The National College Attainment Network is an advocacy organization for students such as yours and their advisers, their website is likely to have resources.
posted by champers at 7:04 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

There are a bunch of people working on demystifying the college admissions and funding process. Their writing is mostly directed at middle-class and influencer-class readers. They are critics of the industry. But you still might appreciate their perspectives. They include:

Jon Boeckenstedt - Twitter -- Blog -- More Stuff

Ron Lieber - Author of The Price You Pay for College is also on Twitter.

Michael B Horn - has interesting things to say about college admissions and education on Twitter.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:41 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't post a link to Michael Thaddeus's epic takedown of his university's ranking by the US News and World Report. (If you don't want the gory details, the conclusion is a worthwhile summary.)
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2022

Maybe talk funding. College is expensive at every level, including before you even enroll - application fees, standardized tests, resume-building activities, etc. Some of those fees can be waived with a bit of pre-planning, but it can be a major obstacle to even applying to college.

Once they're applying talk FAFSA, in-house scholarships, how to search for 3rd party funding, loan forgiveness programs, and last resort of private loans (careful - you can really dig a huge hole before you know it). Students need to think about the funding piece a bit. In my experience as a college adviser funding is the #1 obstacle for most students. The last thing anyone needs is to spend years and thousands of dollars to walk away with nothing to show for it.

I love the suggestion above about helping them to find their identity as a college student. That will be so critical for success as well. Students need a community. I'd also suggest talking about writing. Admissions essays have unspoken expectations that will not be known or obvious to first generation students especially. If you can help them to understand what's effective from an admissions perspective as they tell their stories that would be wonderful.
posted by owls at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

College Scorecard from the US Department of Education has piles of data and allows easy comparisons between schools. It's a clear way to see estimated annual cost, graduation rates, the average annual salary of graduates (including the percent that earn more than someone with only a high school diploma).
NPR had a story on the website last February.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 9:23 AM on March 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Besides College Scorecard, there is the deeply fugly College Navigator ( It's not pretty but the data it uses is solid and objective. (I work in .edu IT: this is IPEDS data, which is a federal reporting thing. No marketing spin on these numbers.)

We're on our third kid picking a college. :7) I like to make a spreadsheet and paste in its data so we can make objective comparisons across schools: student body, tuition, room & board, percentage commuters....stuff like that.
It's worth noting that there are a lot of open, public sources of data these days -- way more than when we graduated! But there are also web sites like College Confidential, which are subjective opinion, and add as much noise as they add signal to your research. That is, you might get a direct answer there, but it's also full of outdated numbers, hurt feelings, and guesswork.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Posse Foundation actively recruits students from marginalized backgrounds. It would be worthwhile to check if they recruit from your city.
posted by veery at 12:55 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

A new-ish term is FGLI (First Generation Low Income).

There's Questbridge.

For you, there's college confidential and NACAC.

There have been some recent-ish changes to FAFSA policies. Also colleges are required to post a "net price calculator."

Many schools have gone test optional.
posted by oceano at 9:25 PM on March 23, 2022

Have them look up the community college feeder schools and transfer credit options as a cost saver. Taking a few requirements in the summer(s) from a home state CC or state college can create major savings, like thousands of dollars.

Additionally, state schools often have easier admit policies for students to transfer from a local CC. This is both due to mission/familiarity and transfers also count on a school’s rankings in a different way than freshman intake.

Employers should mostly care about the final degree, and CC credits similarly should not harm grad school applications unless performance is terrible. The transition up can be rough though, so the summer transfer credits idea may be preferable for students who will benefit from getting used to harder classes sooner.
posted by ec2y at 12:56 AM on March 24, 2022

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