This post is very close to my heart.
I was a first-generation community college student from a very low-income family—I understand how tough it is to balance life and earning a college education.
What is going to propel you out of this situation is your ability to be opportunistic (i.e., hustle) and use your low-income status as an asset. Meaning, you want to take advantage of every opportunity (financial or otherwise) that exists for you.
Believe me, there are more opportunities than you can even imagine. While I’ll list a few of them here, don’t be afraid to look for other openings that exist.
Get Comfortable With Financial Aid
For some reason, I’ve noticed that the more low income a student considers him or herself to be, the more they tend to shy away from the financial aid process. That’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing!
As a low-income student, the whole system is designed to help you afford a college education. Here is my advice to you: get comfortable with financial aid. Sit down with a financial aid counselor on campus, research your options online, understand the terminology, and do whatever it takes to have a better grip on any opportunity for which you qualify. This could mean the difference between getting a refund check each semester for $2,000–$5,000 and having to work part time while taking courses.
This is also important because you’ll soon be transferring to a 4-year university that has its own set of financial aid complexities. The more comfortable you can become with your financial aid options now, the better you will be at managing your financial aid after you transfer.
Earn The Grades And Apply For Scholarships
There is nothing more powerful in the scholarship world than a low-income, high-achieving student. I say that with the straightest of faces.
If you are a low-income student and you can earn a great GPA (above a 3.2), then you are in prime scholarship territory. I’m talking about potentially earning thousands of dollars a year in scholarship money.
Already have a GPA above 3.2? Then prioritize your scholarship search. Just shy of that GPA? Focus on getting your grades up this semester, and start looking for scholarships that are due next semester.
Check out my other blog posts for guidance on how to effectively search and apply for scholarships.
Consider Transferring To A Private 4-Year College
This may sound counterintuitive, but low-income students should consider applying to private 4-year universities for transfer. Even though private universities have a higher price tag than a state school on the surface, these institutions often award larger grants (called need-based grants) to low-income students than some public universities.
This is not the case with every private university, so be sure to look for schools that state something like the following on their financial aid website:
“We meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.”
If you have your heart set on a school that you think is really expensive, call the financial aid office and ask about their financial aid policies for low-income students.
In the end, remember that it doesn’t matter how much the school costs. What matters is how much you are expected to pay out of pocket after federal and institutional financial aid is applied. You often hear of kids receiving “full rides” to certain universities, but that isn’t always merit based. A university with a large endowment and generous financial aid packages could offer you a massive need-based grant that would cover your cost of attendance AND provide you with a cash refund each semester.
The one thing I want you to take away from this post is that being in a low-income family situation is as much of a benefit as it is a disadvantage. There are scholarships, grants, federal resources, and a ton of other opportunities designed to make college affordable for students who are in your situation.
With the right mindset and a little bit of hustle, low-income students have the chance to graduate from college debt free.
Want to learn the ins and outs of paying for college? Check out saltmoney.org.