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College and Financial Aid Resources for Low-Income Students

Gabby Landry '18, Co-Editor in Chief

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Montrose’s rigorous academic and character education program equips students to apply and attend excellent colleges after graduation.  Yet, while getting into and attending these colleges may be academically possible, the rising cost of a college education presents a significant obstacle for many students—especially those from lower income families.

In fact, the cost of attending private colleges and universities often deters qualified low-income students from even applying.  According to the QuestBridge organization (more on this later), “Annually, approximately 30,000 talented low-income students nationally are academically qualified to attend the nation’s best colleges, but the majority of them don’t even apply to one selective college.”  

The process of researching and applying to colleges can be daunting enough.  When it comes to figuring out how to afford the next four years, the pressure builds.  That pressure can become overwhelming for low-income students and their families.

But organizations and resources exist across the country to help take some of the weight off their shoulders.  Read on to discover five organizations, tools, and resources that help low-income high schoolers get in (and stay in) college affordably.

  • QuestBridge: QuestBridge is a non-profit program that links students with educational and scholarship opportunities at 39 partner colleges and universities in the US.  Every year, QuestBridge offers “low-income, high achieving” high school seniors the opportunity to apply to their partner colleges through the National College Match, using an application unique from others, such as the Common App or Coalition App.  Like these two applications, the QuestBridge application requires family and student information, financial information, standardized test scores, school grades, and letters of recommendation.  Unlike the others, however, QuestBridge requires a variety (not just one personal essay) of long essays, short essays, and short answer questions that allow students to really stand out beyond their GPA and test scores.  From these applicants, QuestBridge selects a number of Finalists, who rank up to 12 of the partner schools to which they’d like to apply.  Then, these ranked schools review the applicant’s application and supplementary requirements for the chance to receive early admission and a guaranteed full four-year scholarship (this is called “getting matched”).  College Match Scholarships cover the full cost of tuition, room, and board with neither loans nor parental contribution.  For students who are not matched, which is the majority of Finalists, QuestBridge guides them through QuestBridge Regular Decision, in which they can apply to any other of the partner schools with the distinguishment of being a QuestBridge Finalists.  Many Finalists are accepted to partner colleges through QuestBridge Regular Decision, and many also receive financial aid packages that amount to nearly the same as the College Match Scholarships. QuestBridge also has a program for Juniors called the College PrepScholar Program.  According to QuestBridge, “Being selected as a College Prep Scholar is a notable distinction that celebrates your achievements and gives you an early start in applying to college.  Learn more about both programs at http://www.questbridge.org. 
  • College Possible and College Point: College Possible is a nonprofit AmeriCorps organization that guides low-income students through the college admission and financial aid process through “an intensive curriculum of coaching and support.”  Through the College Point program, College Possible provides qualifying students with coaches (beginning in Junior year), who schedule phone or video calls for free coaching and guidance.  These advisors give personal, one-on-one support and encouragement to students all the way through their freshman year of college.  College Point coaches also send regular email updates and reminders with links to scholarship information, instructions for filling out financial aid applications, and helpful articles on parts of the college admissions process, such as interviewing, essay-writing, and creating a balanced college list.  Visit College Point’s website to learn more: https://www.collegepoint.info. 
  • College Greenlight: College Greenlight is an online resource that connects students from low-income or minority backgrounds to a myriad of scholarships and to information about colleges that match their interests.  When creating an account, students input information about grades, income and ethnic backgrounds, and talents and interests.  College Greenlight’s search database then provides an extensive list of relevant colleges with varying acceptance rates and scholarships with varying degrees of difficulty.  The College Greenlight blog also publishes regularly, providing helpful information to navigate the college admissions and financial aid process.  Learn more here: http://www.collegegreenlight.com.
  • The College Board: The College Board is the big name in college admissions.  It regulates Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the SAT, the CSS Profile financial aid application, and other programs.  The cost of applying to college because of application fees adds up quick: According to TIME, “[Once you] tally up the score reports and CSS profile, along with the application fee, it’s easy to run $75 to $100 per college. Finally, of course, you start multiplying that by the number of colleges you’re applying to.”  To help alleviate this cost, the College Board provides qualifying students with access to fee waivers for applying to college, taking the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, sending SAT and SAT Subject Test scores to colleges, and submitting the CSS Profile. College Board provides more resources at http://www.bigfuture.org, where students can log in with their College Board account and access college-planning resources online.  https://www.collegeboard.org/
  • Net Price Calculator: The Net Price Calculator is a resource from the US Department of Education that allows anyone to input their family financial information and determine their net price to attend a particular college or university.  According to the website: “Net Price is the amount that a student pays to attend an institution in a single academic year AFTER subtracting scholarships and grants the student receives. Scholarships and grants are forms of financial aid that a student does not have to pay back.”  The Net Price Calculator allows families to determine approximately how much it would cost to attend a particular school.  This estimate can encourage low-income students to apply to more selective schools regardless of the “ticket price” (the full cost of tuition, room, and board), because in reality, that school would provide qualified students with the financial resources necessary to gain access into the school.  https://collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx

Working through these opportunities adds significantly to the college application process; however, the rewards are worth it. Build these opportunities into your college application process. It may take more effort, but the results may help make college more affordable than you imagined.

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College and Financial Aid Resources for Low-Income Students