Information and Tips for First Generation Students and Families Planning for College

According to a 2013 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, college graduates have lower unemployment rates, fare better during recessions, and earn wages roughly double those of high school graduates. When made responsibly, a higher education remains a valuable, long term investment.

While parents understand the value of a degree, they may not know how they can help their children be the first member of their family to achieve their college goals.

Here are five tips that can help:

  1. Talk with your high school counselor
    • Students should find a mentor or sponsor to help them make a plan that best suit their needs. For example, high school counselors can help families make informed decisions by learning about a particular student’s talents and interests.
  2. Complete the FAFSA
    • Regardless of your income, all students should complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). All federal financial aid and most state and institutional aid require the FAFSA.
    • This application will require tax and income information from the previous year, but don’t skip this step because you might miss out on free aid like scholarships and grants, or low-cost aid like federal student loans. Students and parents can get started early by requesting their FAFSA pin at Complete the FAFSA at no earlier than January 1 for the upcoming academic year.
  3. Look for scholarship sources
    • Getting scholarships or grants for college is a great option because you don’t need to pay them back after graduation. They are awarded on various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes on the donor or founder of the award. The government, your college, or a local organization can offer you a scholarship.
    • When it comes to scholarships, you should start searching early and be persistent.
    • Look for organizations that support higher education. For example, Wells Fargo’s CollegeSTEPS®program helps students and their parents plan for college, get financial and study information while in school, and prepare for their first job upon graduation. When students sign up to receive this information, they are automatically entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win $1,000.
    • You can also do an online search, and research local organizations or banks.
    • Beware of scholarship scams. Watch out for scholarship scams or companies that require a credit card number just to perform a search. Scholarships are “free money,” so you should never have to pay money to get them.
  4. Explore your additional financing options
    • If federal financial aid doesn’t cover all college-related expenses, you’ll need to determine additional financing options.
    • Tuition payment plan—Instead of paying your tuition bill in one lump sum each semester, some schools allow you to enroll in this plan to make smaller, more manageable installment payments. This plan can be used on its own, or combined with financial aid and student loans.
    • Federal Work Study Program—Students can earn money towards their college education by working part time.
    • Federal Direct PLUS loan—This loan can cover up to 100 percent of remaining eligible education-related costs. These loans are available for parents of dependent undergraduate students and for graduate and professional students. A credit check is required, but debt and current income is not considered.
    • Private (or alternative) student loans—These loans are made available through banks and other private lenders. These loans typically cover 100 percent of remaining costs of eligible education-related expenses. A credit check is required as well as a debt and current income check. Therefore, most students will need a qualified adult cosigner to meet eligibility requirements.
  5. Know your deadlines and compare your options
    • Pay special attention to the application deadlines to make sure you can take full advantage of these opportunities. Don’t assume application deadlines are the same for all colleges. Make sure you know your school’s application deadlines.
    • Use the Wells Fargo financial aid calendar for important dates, and be aware of the different types of funding options that families can use to cover education costs.

Learn more about paying for college at

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