Beginners Guide To College for First Generation Haitian-American College Students

My parents migrated from Haiti in hopes of providing their children with a better life. They came into this country with nothing; they came into this country hoping for something.

I am of the first generation youth to be born in America and the first to attend college. I can not tell you how or what made me pursue college education. However,  I was encouraged to attend college under the notions that I would live and lead a better life. As they raised me, it was ingrained in my mental that receiving a college education was the end goal. And this, I achieved.

As I venture through the process of receiving a college education, I offer a beginners guide to college that explains how to pay for college and who can help you throughout your college career.

College Transition Programs

Prior to applying to college, early awareness is key. College transition programs encourage students to think about college and provides support services for students in need prior to entering college. These, often called Bridge Programs, vary by state, by high school, and by college. I encourage starting as early as your Junior year in High School and no later then the summer prior to the start of the Fall term.

Finding funding for college was out of sight and out of mind to my mother. She did not not tell me how I was going to afford my college education, she just told me I had to go. This was definitely due to her lack of knowledge on college, financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other sources of funding for my undergraduate education. Due to this lack of knowledge, it was my duty to educate her and myself.

How do you afford college?

Scholarships and Grants these words are used interchangeably and are need-based (based on a students financial need) forms of funding for college students. Also, they can be academic-base, athletic-base, or merit-base and are awarded based on those abilities.

They are offered by:

  • Government

The federal government offers the largest source of gifted aid. Usually, in the form of a Pell Grant known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

FAFSA is the first step to receiving majority of the grant or scholarship opportunities that are federally funded ad need-based. This federal program is used as a determinant of financial aid consideration. Information about you and your family is collected through an online application in order to determine your qualifying attributes.

The application typically opens October 1st, giving you time to apply any time after that. The application deadline is June 30th for the 2018-2019 academic year. It is recommended that you apply early to receive priority consideration.

  • Colleges

Though stricter in requirements, colleges offer grants and scholarships to attendees of the institution. These fundings are either merit-based, need-based, or combined. Be sure to check the institutions Financial aide page information of visit the financial aid office for more information on scholarships available to you based on your attributes (Transfer student, first generation, Haitian-descent, underrepresented group, etc).

  • Private Organizations

Many companies (i.e. McDonalds), foundations (i.e. the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), clubs, and community organizations (i.e. nonprofits or charities) offer grants or scholarships. Consider asking your employer if they offer tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement. Look into any club, foundation, or community organization that you are an active member of for assistance. Your parents employer may even offer assistance to their children as a form of external scholarship opportunities.

Loans are borrowed money that is expected to be repaid. Colleges, banks, and the government offers loan money to students with specific terms. Before considering loans from private institutions such as banks, exhausting Federal loans is the safest. This is due to the fact that Federal loans offer the most flexible repayment options compared with private loans.

*Rule of thumb, scholarships before loans.*

Who do you turn to for help?

Adult Advisors and Peer Mentors 

Because your parents are unaware of the opportunities available at universities not educational avenues you may pursue, finding an adult advisor or peer mentor will be beneficial.

Who can be an adult advisor or peer mentor?

An adult advisor can be your high school teacher, a guidance counselor, a professor, work supervisor/manager/director with college education, a pastor/priest, or a university/college faculty member to name a few.

A peer mentor is typically a college student who has already achieved what you are searching to succeed in college. Typically this individual is a Junior or Senior-standing student who has completed core coursework in your major of study or similar. Peer mentors are just as important as an adult advisor. Even though they have not achieved a Bachelors, they are further ahead in the process than someone who is an incoming-Freshman, Freshman, and Sophomore-standing.

While college may appear to be a challenge for first-generation students, it offers a variety of rewards. This serves as a guide to provide you with keys to your college funding and the individuals who can assist you along the way.


One thought on “Beginners Guide To College for First Generation Haitian-American College Students”

  1. Hello!,

    I love the fact that this article is even a thing. As a first-generation college student who is in her first month of college 6 hours away from home I can definitely say the entire process was nerve wracking!

    Thank you for this.


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