College Success Tips By A First Generation Student – Part II

Read the first half of Stephenie’s story here.

How did you choose your major?finaidwindow

At Cascadia, my Associates degree was a Direct Transferable Agreement (DTA) degree and I met with a counselor every quarter. I remember meeting with her in a panic because I really had no idea what I was going to major in.

I know my mind is not inclined to go into engineering or accounting. I’m more interested in humanities, which means that I work well with children. I love literacy and history. I don’t mind speaking in front of a large audience, and I tend to be charismatic around people.

So I remember panicking that “None of these pay anything!” and my counselor said “Having a Bachelor’s itself is a huge step from where you came from, so get a degree in what you love. If you think you are going to flunk out of accounting, don’t take it. Take what you think you are going to succeed in, because ultimately, you are going to have a Bachelor’s at the end. Instead of handing over a job application that says you have a GED, you will hand over an application that says you graduated from UW.”

So that’s how I chose American studies.

I strongly encourage everyone to meet with a counselor every quarter to come up with a plan for the year. Not only will you know what classes to take that quarter, but you’ll know what classes you should take the next quarter. So you can get the things that need to be done out of the way.

So, after majoring in American studies, do you find that you use your major in your work?

Right now, no. That’s part of the reason why I’m frustrated because I actually love my job. I do purchasing for a furniture design company. I obtained my degree a little later than a lot of my coworkers, so I tend to be a little more tech savvy. In that regard, I am using my degree but I’m really not, which is why I want to go back and get my Masters. Not to mention the fact that I love learning. I love literacy. I love research and data compilation.

Tell us more about library & information science.

I don’t know about you guys but when I was in college, we hardly ever opened a real book. We found that a lot of our archival research was through a database. I loved the research part of it. I loved just being able to thumb through and find great pieces from libraries all over the world. But librarians, as I know it, are falling by the way side.

Then, last year, I ran into someone who is a librarian in the Northshore School District and I mentioned to him that I would love to be a librarian but there are no jobs.

He said “No, no. The current librarians do not know how to work with computers. We need a new generation of librarians who know how to operate database systems.”

And that made me contemplate going back to school and getting my masters.

What do you think are some of the reasons a lot of people don’t go back to school and don’t finish college? Do you think they aren’t prepared enough academically or what?

I think that’s all really common. I had to start with remedial math to catch up but thankfully I didn’t run out of my financial aid. But I think what most people struggle with is financial aid.

When you apply for financial aid, they take the previous year’s tax income. So say someone worked full time and they were barely making ends meet. Then they apply for financial aid thinking, “I am going to be a full time college student.” According to the financial aid office, they are making $25,000, which is not that great, but it’s certainly not enough to qualify for financial aid.

What most people don’t know is that in some instances, people can apply for a type of waiver which says, “I’m no longer making that income. I’m dedicated to being a full time college student. Can you please revisit my income?”

Usually people get a rejection letter saying they don’t qualify for financial aid or they qualified for minimum financial aid. So not only are they going to work full time, they are going to go to school full time too.

Another thing is that, once you start, you have to keep in communication with the financial aid office and you have to be careful about the money you earn because that will affect your financial aid for the following year.

I was constantly in the financial aid office to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I think people have a tendency to avoid a situation they are uncomfortable with, but instead just meet it head on and ask, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Do you have someone who can help me? Someone who can talk me through this?”

Child care is a huge concern too. I didn’t know where my kids would be when I was in class all day. Their grandma was taking care of them at first and then she couldn’t, so I had to look at other options.

That’s when I found out that most colleges either have childcare on site or they will cover a portion of your childcare cost. The two colleges I went to, covered 50% of childcare cost.

Now you said that in addition to grants, you did take out some student loans?

My student loan debt is high but it’s not as high as some people’s because I qualified for a lot of grants. I don’t like the fact that I had to take out student loans but what I do like is they do have a lot of repayment options.

Say you fumbled and fell flat on your face and didn’t get a job the first year. You can get an economic hardship deferment. You can have your loans deferred without having an impact on your credit or you can have it adjusted to a payment plan based on income.

(See the petitions and loan deferment options at University of Washington here.)

Do you have any advice for other GED graduates?

With a lot of people who get their GEDs, usually there is a reason for it. Something prevented them from getting their high school diplomas. It could have been a hardship in the family, or that they had a lot of ongoing stress at home, or they had to take a job early.

It’s that same peripheral stress that prevents them from getting further education. When you have all that peripheral stress, if you can make the academic part as smooth as possible, then maybe you can get all the way through.

Tap into local resources and ask, “Hey, I need help figuring out how to apply to the community college” or “I need to make sure I don’t flunk out this time” or “I need someone to back me up in math because it’s not my strong suit.”

Make sure you are in communication with the financial aid center and the counseling center. If you ever think that there’s an instance that you are not going to make it, talk to your teachers or email them. Because they are not there to see you fail. They really want you to succeed. You just have to talk to them.

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