First Family High School Graduate. Wait For College?

Lashawn thinks she’s got it worse than I think she really does. Almost to the point where she’s considering skipping college for a bit, but I think that’s a bad idea considering her setup.

I’ll be the first one of my family to graduate from high school, let alone go to college, so there is a lot of pressure.

None here, Lashawn — just a big fat double thumbs-up straight at you.


high school graduate
I have no idea who this is, but I’m assuming that he’s now too old too sue me over using his picture. Or at least too old to be visiting this site.

When it comes down to financial aid my family won’t be contributing in any way. Things have always been very hard for us financially. So I’ve been considering waiting until next year to start college so I can work, save, and maybe have a better shot at getting a scholarship.

Well, before even getting to the rest of your note, let me stop you and say that this is one of those very rare times in life where it’s actually good to be broke. If your family has very little money, you should be eligible for a lot of need-based financial aid, including the dandy Pell Grant and FSEOG award.

I’m not extremely picky about what college I go to, like I said I’ll be the first anyways.

Well, if money is tight and you’re not picky, my usual recommendation is to consider community college. It’s usually a very cheap option, and it gives you the chance to sample the introductory courses in a variety of fields of study — again, for very little cost.

I’ve been to six different high schools so it’s been difficult to keep my grades competitive. Right now I’m just trying to hold on to my B-average.

Hold on to it as tightly as you can! Lots of scholarships have cutoffs at 3.0, do whatever you’ve got to do in order to keep it.

It seems like everything is falling apart at the last minute. I haven’t filled out FAFSA because everyone said that I needed my mom’s tax return to do it. The problem is she never filed because she only made a few hundred dollars last year. Now I’m afraid it may be too late.

It’s not too late. You actually have until the end of June 2012 to fill out your FAFSA for the 2011-2012 school year. The sooner the better, sure, but you’re nowhere near too late. In that timeframe, you should be able to use that information when you are efiling when tax time rolls around the following year.

Also, I made a 25 on the ACT but I was going to retake it to score higher to get in Columbia College that offer full tuition for students who make a 26 or higher. But the day of my test I wasn’t able to go because my Aunt died and her funeral was on the same day.

25 is a fine score, but sure, if you can get free college out of it, study up and buck for another point.

I wanted to get it switched to the next available date, but we can’t afford the $20 transfer fee.

Yes you can. Borrow it, panhandle for it, or outright steal it if you have to. If it means the difference between a free college education and a not-free college education, you can afford much more than $20. And, luckily, it’s just $20. Borrow it. Get it from somebody.

My sister said that she could get me a job working with her.

There ya go.

I’m starting to think that taking time off to work and save some money before starting school is my best option. I’m just really confused about what I should do.

Understood, and I’m glad you wrote, because it sounds to me like your instincts are taking you in the wrong direction. Although it may not seem like it, you’re in a pretty good spot.

You’ve got a B average, you’ve got an above-average ACT score, you’ve got lots of financial need, and you’re a minority. You, my friend, are poised to get some free money for college.

First item of business. Fill out the FAFSA. Like, RIGHT NOW. Do not wait any longer. The quicker you apply, the better access you’ll have to state money (federal will be there regardless).

Second item: Retake that ACT if you think you’ve got a shot at getting a better score. Every extra point you earn can make a giant difference in the amount of aid you’re offered.

Then, come back and let us know how it all goes. I really want to follow what happens to you (and so will the folks at home). Thanks!

— What do you think LaShawn should do? Go now, or work and save some money? Let us know in the comments below.

23 thoughts on “First Family High School Graduate. Wait For College?”

  1. Hey LaShawn,

    First off, way to go! I know exactly how you feel. It’s hard finding people to support your endeavours when you’re the first. I was the first as well, we didn’t have much money either, AND my transcripts were international so I didn’t even have the option for merit based scholarships. But I went to a community college my first two years (and it was EXCELLENT!), I got enough financial aid to get me through it, and eventually transferred to a four year school. I swear to you that there is no substitute for an education while you’ve still got the patience and energy for it. I’m graduating in May with zero debt!

    Please, please, please, fight to go to college!

  2. Go LaShawn. Go.
    The thing is, this aid is going to be available to you right now. I promise you it won’t be as easy to get if you wait, even one year.

    There are lots of schools that’ll offer you a good or free ride. Normally I’d agree on the community college idea, but not this time. I’d go to the four year right away, specifically because you can get housing and food if you do. Community colleges tend to not offer housing and meal plans, as a general rule. If you get a full ride, there will be no financial burden on your family at all – might even be a kind of bonus.

    It is hard to be the first. Family tends to not see the value in what you are trying to do. It’s hard to describe, and completely unexpected. But if you do this, they will support your decision in the end and be extra proud of you for sticking to your principles.

    Best of all, college is, when it’s all said and done, fun. Sure, you’ll do a lot of work. But a lot of it won’t be so much like work, because you’ll be learning about things you WANT to learn. Stuff that you’re interested in. All the things you wanted to know but didn’t have the time or the resources to follow up on? It’s there. And you get to check it out. With mentoring. It’s really nice to have someone handy to ask about, and the instructors will appreciate it, too.

    Please go, LaShawn. I can honestly say it would have been a lot easier if I’d done this in my 20s than now. Don’t let life slow you down (and it will. You don’t think so now, but that’s nearly a sure bet). Do this, and your family will be grateful. And you will be too!

  3. Between work and college, I’d be taking the college option hands down if I were you, love. The only thing you would regret is *not* going. =)

  4. Lashawn please, please, please go to college. I am a first generation college student, that comes from a very poor family. I do mean honestly poor with turned off utilities, food from food banks, hand-me down clothes, etc. My parent’s are not contributing a dime to my education. They aren’t paying for books, meals, tuition, and they don’t send me money either. I’ve seen so many people who take a year off from college and never go back again. I don’t want you to become one of those people because I see their struggles and know they would have been much better off with college.

    If you have to go to a community college, DO IT! If you really want to go to a four year college then DO IT. As long as you’re not paying full tuition then it the end it’s worth. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Right now, I’ve only finished my freshman year. But you know what? Once you’re on campus, you can find a job. I have two jobs and still maintain a position on the Dean’s list.

    Anyway long story short: love yourself make a decision, go to college it is vital. If you want my contact info reply to this post and we can talk. I really want you to go to a university!

  5. A person such as yourself who comes from hard circumstances may consider applying to private scholarships. A number of them ask you to write an essay about overcoming personal obstacles. If you describe your circumstances well, then the judging committee may look favorably upon you and award you some money. The fact that you are also a first-generation college student will help you out in this situation as well.

    It would not be a good idea for you to take off a year before going to college unless you plan to do something really meaningful that will boost your chance of getting a scholarship. It would be best for you to start right away while the momentum is still going.

    You may consider, through legal and moral means, getting the $20 that you need. There is someone out there who will believe in you and give you the money. You will have to work at finding that somebody.

    If necessary, you may want to consider private student loans. With your family’s situation, there is the possibility that you might be considered too much of a risk, so if you go that route, you will have to fight for it by showing how worthy of a student you are.

    As for the FAFSA, I am not certain about this statement, but you may be able to file the FAFSA without your mother’s information. You may want to check that out to make sure. If you can file without her information, do so as the money is first come, first served. You will get considerably less the later you wait to file. With your family’s income level, you may be able to qualify for Federal Work-Study. Receiving that particular aid might be a plus for you as some scholarships put some emphasis on work experience.

    1. I agree. Private scholarships are a great route to take. I am sponsored by one private scholarship and each year I have to write a short personal statement on the challenges I continue to overcome while in college. As yourself, I come from difficult circumstances, and as you will learn your circumstances don’t really improve that much even though you’ve gotten into college. In fact, they may become more difficult and lead you to wanting to give up, but don’t! And that’s what I use to write about when reapplying for my scholarship each semester. For each new semester brings a load of new challenges, so my sponsors love the fact that I haven’t given up in the face of adversity.

      Also, with private scholarships, at times, you get a mentor who can be someone to turn to in tough times. They can also be someone who can help you get your foot in the door when looking for internships, jobs, etc. So, I suggest going to college and looking into private scholarships. Private loans may be hard to come by. I don’t qualify for much because my financial circumstances. But try apply for them anyhow.

      Good luck! Just don’t wait on college. It may become really difficult to return to school the longer you wait it out.

  6. I think she should never wait. I’m attending college, working and a single father. It’s only going to help me out in the long run by graduating no matter what obstacles there are.

  7. Take time off… just make sure your plans to attend college or even a community college afterwards are realistic.

  8. Lashawn – Go to college! Go to university! If you can get scholarships or bursaries or grants to get that free ride then go for it! I am also the first person to go to university in my family.

    My parents were not in any kind of hardship while I was growing up (neither of them graduated from high school) but they took the work route and did quite well. I got to go to Hawaii a couple of times as a teenager and had a comfortable home to grow up in. My thing was, that because this life worked for my parents, they never pushed college/university and actually talked against it. Now I’m almost 43, (my husband and I have worked back up the ladder from bankruptcy) and am a fourth year student (it has taken me 6 years to get here, and have probably another 3 to go to get my teaching degree).

    As I found, there are not many opportunities out there that can make you happy AND provide a better than half decent income without a degree. My dad did OK but had to give up his dream job (he was a chef in the 60s and got to cook for the Beatles. He ended up quitting because it didn’t pay consistently well and ended up being a bus driver for 40+ years).

    I’m now getting the “I’m proud of you” comments from my parents – no words of encouragement as a teenager. And although I fit minority categories (age & sex), I am not in financial hardship and have not had success getting any financial aid – most of them want you to express “need.” As Josh said, this is the one time in your life that it pays to broke. Please don’t put it off.

  9. Work where? Earn how much? Save or SPEND?
    First time collegiates have been leading the way for over one hundred years. Since you are accustomed to living lean, continue for the cause of living large, later. In sociological terms that’s deferred gratification. College delayed could be college denied. Ask twenty people for $1 and retake the ACT. You’re equipped to get it done. Your up and coming relatives will follow your example.

  10. I’m also a first generation college student and have been helping to pay the bills in my household since I was about 12. My older sister graduated high school late and my brother got a GED, and I’m the only one to go to college. I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford college either because we could barely keep the electric on and buy food to eat. But when you apply for FAFSA, being poor is actually a benefit. You’ll get more money from the government then all the middle class students will! I got a full ride to college based only on grants from FAFSA. I do have to have a small part time job in order to have extra spending money and not worry at the end of each semester, but even before the job I was doing alright and could pay my rent near the university, bills, food, emergency money, etc. It’s also nice when you have enough money to help out your family. Even though I’m just a college student, I’m helping my family financially as well. It’s good that I don’t have to rely on anyone else and I’m not struggling the way I would have been just working at a middle waged job earning next to nothing.
    My mom didn’t used to file her taxes either because she barely made anything, but I ask her to do it anyway now so I can put it on my FAFSA. It’s not too late, you still have until April 12th for her to file for last year, and if she doesn’t have the time she can file for an extension. If she didn’t earn much then it’ll take maybe an hour for her to do it anyway. There are also many free locations around the city that help people do their income taxes. Search around online or ask someone if they know of any of those locations. That’s how my sister did hers and it’s legit.

    Regarding community college vs 4 year university, I’d suggest just getting straight into a 4 year university. They’ll give you even more financial aid than the community college will. But of course apply to both just in case. You don’t want to delay it. I’d highly suggest applying to the state colleges, because you should no doubt be able to get in even with a B average and will have everything covered, even living expenses and pocket money. Also it will be easier to just stay at the same place rather than worry about transferring later.

    Anyway, I really hope you go straight to college and take all this as encouragement. So many of us have been in similar situations, but we did it, we succeeded, on our own. And you can too.
    When I was in high school I decided that I didn’t want to live the way I grew up. I didn’t want to struggle to pay the bills each month or end up working in a Dollar General or grocery store. But without a college education, that’s likely where I would have ended up. I wanted an escape, and I knew college was the only way. That was my motivation to go to college. I hope you think about what everyone has said and I really hope that you go to college in Fall and stay strong, and graduate from high school AND college.

    1. Actually, everyone has until April 18th to file their taxes. The normal deadline is April 15th, but that day is a holiday in the District of Columbia this year. As a result, there is an extension for this year.

  11. Lashawn,

    Go to college. You can always work with your sister for the summer, and if you do well might be able to lock it in as a summer job for next year, too. Most students that put off going for a year to earn money do not go back to school for years if at all.

    I am not the first to go to college on my dad’s side of the family, but am on my mom’s. My mother is a single parent and I had my first job at age 9 to help cover bills. I was in college at 18 and paid my own way–no loans. But my mom got ill and became disabled with MS. So I dropped out of college thinking I would go back in a year or two. It was 22 years before I went back. I was stuck in dead end jobs, minimum wage, no benefits; plus taking care of mom. Without education you will have trouble getting a job that pays above minimum.

    So do the job for summer and go to college. Being broke you will qualify for lots of government aid, and probably many scholarships. I have both and some loans but I will be graduating next spring from a private, first tier university. That means a job where I’ll make enough to not need 2 jobs to make ends meet.

    As for the $20 bucks borrow it. Ask friends, famliy, teachers, strangers, etc. If you do the summer job borrow it from your sister and pay her back out of your first check. That way you can do the ACT again and make that 26 and get a full ride to Columbia. You’ll be able then to have college paid for and get an education so you can go farther in the future.

    There will be times when it will be tough. I work full time and take a full load of classes, and have a 3.3 GPA. In the end you will be so happy you stuck it out though that the hard work will be more than worth it. You’ll be able to not only improve your personal life with it, but also that of your family.

    Good luck and go for it.

  12. I also think it is a big mistake to wait.

    I had different problems at the ususal college age. My parents refused to support the decision to finish high school and refused tax information for Federal Aid. I earned one scholarship and my mother even called the committee to have the money pulled because she felt I didn’t deserve it. When that scholarship money ran out… I wound up on the street, no money, no job, and living in a shelter.

    If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now … many retail companies offer financial aid. WalMart just entered into agreements to pay 100% (no money up front from the student) with American Public University System. I know a few people who are taking advantage of this.

    It might be a struggle, but the sooner you get at least an associates, you will be better off in the long run.

  13. Another first-generation college student from a background of financial hardship here.

    1. Get the full ride to whatever school you can and GO, it will actually be cheaper than community college because of money for room and board.
    2. Apply for every scholarship you possibly can from school, corporations, your future university, rotary clubs and the like.
    3. You CAN file the FAFSA without filed taxes, but you will have to estimate your family’s income. If they select your application for review you will need filed tax documents, but it’s not too late for your mother to file.
    4. When you are accepted to your college get into every kind of freshman interest group, peer mentoring, and EOP (educational opportunity program) available. College is hard to navigate, doubly hard without experienced family to guide you. You will have to create a support network of college-experienced folks for yourself.
    5. Join clubs. Hook yourself into that campus as hard as you can first semester, so that when it gets financially, academically, or socially difficult to continue there you have reasons to fight for it and people who will help you.

    Truly, the best of luck to you. You can make this happen.

  14. Lashawn,
    Going to college is an awesome experience. It will open up plenty more doors for you. Good grades and high GPA can get you a full scholarship, but always keep in mind that great oppotunities don’t last forever. College will open your eyes more and make you want to learn. As far as choosing the right college, well what fits you? What are your plans for the future. Sit down and write up a career plan for yourself and answer questions like where you see yourself in the next 5 years and what are your interests. Its okay to have more than one. Having options are great. Waiting? speaking from experience, I decided to take a year off and save money for college, but now that I’m looking at it I tell myself that I could have graduated already and I could be working in my chosen career field already. So please go to college and make the most of it. I’m glad I went back, its the most rewarding decision I have ever made.

    Good Luck with your decision

  15. Go. To. College!!! I’m another first in the family student and I just finished my first year as a doctoral student, as in grad school, as in getting my PhD and I started school with a GED, a husband and two children. You can do this and it’ll be worth it. You’re actually in a good position right now because your exactly the type of student federal aid is intended to help. Take Josh’s advice and run with it. And when you land on campus look up any TRIO program they have available — things like the student success program. These programs are in place to help you adjust to college life and offer you a support system that will help you succeed! Good luck!

  16. If you save for college, 2 things are going to happen: 1, you’ll never feel like you have enough to go so it will never happen; 2, the more cash you have the less financial aid you will get. I read a while back about a girl in Alabama who saved every penny she could get her hands on to get out of the projects and go to college. Then she applies for financial aid, gets turned down based on need because she has too much cash, and somehow her mother then ends up having to come up with the cash to pay back the rent she received for the entire time that her daughter was saving every penny of her own money to go to college.

    You don’t have to have filled out your tax return to be able to complete the FASFA. In one of the first few steps you select between “I’ve completed my return” or “I will complete my return” so there’s no reason to wait! I’m betting that your EFC (expected family contribution) will be zero, which will give you the max Pell grant, and then you can start asking schools for need-based financial aid. You’re in a position that will afford you all kinds of opportunities to go to college. I don’t know if you’re a senior this year, but if you are a junior, it might be worth it to take a couple easier classes your senior year to raise that GPA. Get that $20 and get your ACT up. Most importantly, don’t give up on your dreams and keep fighting to go further than anyone in your family ever believed you could!

  17. I’ll echo everyone else’s sentiments. :GO:

    I’d even venture to say go live on campus at the university. It sounds like you will get a full-ride based on income and minority status…take it and RUN with it. After that, there’s merit-based stuff too.

    Talk to your school counselor on what it takes to get a waiver for test fees. It may be just a reduced fee or 100% free.

    As for staying home and making money…that’s what a lot of people say, then end up 10 years later not going to school. Do school first. See if you can get into work-study…you’ll be making a few bucks on campus then. Win-win!

    Advocate for yourself. You want to do better and be better right? Sweat equity, baby. You’ve got this.

  18. (quote)

    If you save for college, 2 things are going to happen: 1, you’ll never feel like you have enough to go so it will never happen; 2, the more cash you have the less financial aid you will get.

    (end quote)

    (1.) above is often true. People say they’re going to “take a year off and save for college” but they get used to actually having spending money and a certain lifestyle and they end up not going. Maybe you wouldn’t, but that’s something to think about.

  19. Lashawn go to community college to get your bearings and decide what you want to do, and give yourself some time to work out finances. College is the best way to get a head start on life, not the other way around. I’m sure your parents are proud of you and the role model you can be with going forward. Don’t stop now!

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