General Education

What Kids in Underserved High Schools Should Know About College

What Kids in Underserved High Schools Should Know About College
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Seth Czarnecki August 1, 2014

For students from underserved communities, the path to college can be challenging. Read for advice on how to make it a smoother journey.

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For most students, the road to college is a challenging one.

Maintaining a rigorous schedule throughout high school, earning high marks, and keeping oneself involved in the school community can feel, at times, overwhelming. And this is all before the college application process, which can add to the stress.

Still, underserved students (low-income, first generation, and underrepresented minorities) around the country may find the path to higher education even more challenging.

Below, we lay out what you should know before applying to college to help make the road a little less bumpy.

1. Money Is Available

For many low-income families, the cost of college can seem prohibitive. Still, colleges and universities want their campuses to be socio-economically diverse and reflective of our country as a whole. College-, state-, and government-run financial aid programs help make this possible. In my home state of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Association (MEFA) helps families navigate the high costs of higher education through financial aid counseling. Many states have their similar programs.

Moreover, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, among full-time, full-year students who received financial aid in 2007-2008, Black and Hispanic students received on average $13, 500 and $11,400 respectively.

Conor Brosnan, M.Ed., a guidance counselor at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, MA recommends reaching out to college financial aid departments directly. “Talk directly to the financial aid departments of the colleges you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid. Colleges want you there. You just need to get in touch with people who can guide you.”

2. Support Is Out There

If you’re feeling under-supported by your school, or even your family, there are resources designed to help you through the process.

The U.S. Department of Education also offers a litany of resources to help with every step along the way.

Most universities offer outreach programs through their admissions office to coach prospective students on next steps and planning for the future.

3. Planning Is Key

For any student considering going to college, planning in advance is crucial. Brosnan recommends that all students “begin the process early. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by what should be an exciting experience.” Getting started in advance of senior year, gaining a summer job, tutoring classmates, visiting college campuses, and exposing oneself to the cultural activities of the university have been found to be especially meaningful in making the transition from high school to college a more successful one for underserved students. (Green, 2006)

4. Involvement Boosts Retention

Campus life, at first, may provide its own difficulties. As Laura Rendón (2006) states, “Once underserved students cross into the college world, they often experience cultural incongruity in the form of alienation, marginalization, and possibly even cultural attacks such as stereotyping and discrimination.” To help promote retention and student development, Rendón recommends that students seek out peer groups with whom they can identify, creating a smaller community within the larger student body.


Green, Denise. “Historically Underserved Students: What We Know, What We Still Need to Know.” Community College Baccalaureate Association. 2006. Retrieved from CCBA

Kantrowitz, Mark. “The Distribution of Grants and Scholarships by Race”., 2011. FinAid.Org

Laden, B.V. “Serving Emerging Majority Students.” Serving Minority Populations. New Directions for Community Colleges. No. 127. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
National Center for Education Statistics. “Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities: Financial Aid”. NCES

Rendón, Laura I. “Reconceptualizing Success for Underserved Students in Higher Education”. National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. October 2006. NCES


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