It is common wisdom that most parents want their children to attend college. This is especially true in economically disadvantaged communities of color.
These parents know better than anyone that the road to financial freedom and job stability is a difficult one without some post-secondary credential. However, unfortunately, it is often these same parents who end up being the major obstacle to their child’s college aspirations.
Having worked as an educator for 15 years and an administrator for the past nine years in public schools serving high-need populations, it is troublesome to see that rarely is it a child’s grades or the cost of college itself that are the barriers to entry for poor children, but a lack of priority and preparedness on the parents’ parts.
I am certain that in many instances, parents are unaware of how their actions (or more often inactions) negatively impact the whole college admission process. Below are a few ways for parents to avoid the pitfalls that may derail their child’s admission process:
#1. Be prepared to pay college applications fees
Unlike the public high school admission process, the college admission process requires students pay application fees. The fees can range anywhere from $25 - $100 per school. Schools will not process applications without the full payment of the fees.
No matter how often we call and beg parents to provide the application fees, informing them that the student will lose the opportunity to attend school without paying the fees, nothing happens. We will then see that same child come to school with the latest iPhone or an article of clothing that costs many times more than the application fees. If parents do not prioritize the college application process for their children, then of course their children never will.
Almost every college will waive the application fees for students who come from low-income households; however these waivers are often in limited supply. This is especially true for the City University of New York (CUNY) the most popular destination for students who live in New York City. The CUNY application allows students to apply to 6 CUNY schools on one application. They will issue about 6-10 waivers to each high school for students who meet their guidelines for economic hardship. The first students who bring in supporting documents to verify their family’s income will receive the waivers. This brings me to my next point.
#2. Be prepared to disclose your family income
Getting parents to provide the students with the necessary financial documentation has been one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of the whole college application process. Students who would be eligible to receive application waivers, financial need based scholarships or other need based aid miss out because parents have been reluctant to release the financial documents in a timely fashion.
Now I understand that many families are mistrustful of providing their information to anonymous institutions. This wariness around providing social security numbers and bank information has only increased in this age of identity theft. Unfortunately, the reality is that the financial aid and admission process are stopped dead in their tracks without parents providing the required documents.
Any financial assistance that a school will provide for a student, whether it is a fee waiver for an application, or participating in tuition assistance programs (EOP, HEOP, TAP, Work Study, PELL etc.) requires that the families verify their income through releasing their tax returns, W2 statements, paystubs, public assistance budget letters, social security statements or any other documentation that is related to a family’s income.
Students applying for financial aid must also submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is generally a pre-requisite to be considered for any government based or campus based financial assistance that a student may be eligible to receive. The form requires families to fully document all of their sources of income.
At my school, we hold workshops throughout the school year featuring experts in college admissions, financial aid and tax preparation. We even offer free tax preparation and assistance with filling out the required forms. We make personal individual appointments based on the parent’s availability to utilize these services. Despite these efforts, attendance at workshops is usually sparse and parents often fail to show up for their scheduled appointments.
#3. Be prepared to pay start-up costs for college
If a student has completed the admissions and financial aid applications, has been accepted to a school and decides to attend that school, there is still one final hurdle: Families have to be prepared to pay all of the start-up costs associated with going to college.
The amount of these costs usually come as a total surprise to families and has ultimately prevented many students from attending college, even after they have been accepted. Parents must remember that if your child is going to live on campus they are actually moving. So even though it is to a lesser degree than moving an entire family, all of the costs associated with moving come into play. If parents are not prepared to meet all of these costs, then after all the efforts to get that child into college, you may find your child at home with you after graduation, instead of away at school.
I understand that the whole college process can be very intimidating and confusing for families who are unfamiliar with it. But we are are doing our children an enormous disservice and also jeopardizing their future when the college application and admission process is not prioritized and – at the very least – when we do not take advantage of the many resources that are available to assist us.