By Doug Maine
Figuring out how to pay for college can become overwhelming for Latino students and parents alike. At times, it may seem like you need a college degree just to figure out how to take advantage of all the available financial aid. The best way for students to receive the most in scholarships and aid, as well as have a successful college application process, is to start early and be proactive, local counselors say.
College Prep Begins Day One at New Britain High School
At New Britain High School, where a majority of the 2,600 students are Latino, students are encouraged from the get-go to be the well-rounded applicants college admissions officers seek. Freshmen are introduced to the college application process, advised to enroll in advanced placement courses and have the opportunity to take part in extracurricular activities.
The school counselors organize annual meetings and activities for all high school students and parents that are designed to prepare and guide them through the process of applying for financial aid, beginning with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA should be completed during a student’s senior year if he or she plans to attend college the following fall.
At the high school, students and families from all backgrounds are offered the same support, counselor Sondra García said. “On Junior Night, we talk to parents about what they can expect from the college (application) process.”
Parents are also reminded to take advantage of tutoring and other resources that can help their children succeed in higher-education, she said.
García and fellow counselors Idalia Crespo-Villarini and Geno Ayala said they meet frequently with students and their parents while maintaining an open-door policy, rather than requiring appointments. If students’ parents do not speak English, the counselors are able to explain the process to them in Spanish during the individual meetings.
The majority of students at the high school apply to two-year community colleges, however, they are “encourag[ed] to apply for any type of school they qualify for,” Crespo-Villarini said. “We don’t have any gate-keeping here.”
Be Proactive — But Smart — About Financial Aid Resources
Glaisma Pérez-Silva, a counselor at Capital Community College in Hartford, said students and parents should begin to strategize how to pay for college by junior year of high school at the latest. Seeking scholarships, loans and other financial aid is a process that requires “at least a year of preparation prior to the graduation date.”
While counselors can help, the onus is really on the students to do their own research and take the initiative, Pérez-Silva advised. “It’s my experience with many students and their parents that they were sitting waiting for a letter to come to them.”
In reality, she said, students need to actively search out information by using the internet and talking to people, like their school counselors, who can point them in the right direction.
“It’s about networking and knowing where the resources can be identified.”
Though finding financial aid might seem like a daunting task, parents and students should avoid paying someone else to find money for college, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The department warns that commercial financial aid advice services often charge $1,000 or more and will later claim to have fulfilled their guarantee if a student is offered $200 in scholarships or student loans. Others may use phony offers of financial aid to obtain credit card or bank account numbers as a ploy for identity theft.
Even if students are not planning on attending a four-year college, there are other routes they can take, Pérez-Silva said. Students can also take advantage of short-term programs offering professional certification, which also have financial aid packages for students can benefit from.
“Dare to try,” she said. “There are opportunities for everyone to test themselves in terms of their academic goals.”
For more information on how to finance your college education without being dragged down by debt, read CTLatinoNews.com’s previous coverage here.
Helpful links for Latinos applying for scholarships, grants and aid:
Hispanic College Fund
College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP)
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
Hispanic Heritage Foundation