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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.

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.

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.

One of the things you can do is talk directly to the financial aid departments of the colleges you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid. Colleges want youthere. You just need to get in touch with people who can guide you.

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.

It’s like anything else in life, the better prepared you are, the better the chance you will succeed.

Planning Is Key

 For any student considering going to college, planning in advance is crucial.

  1. Begin the process early. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by what should be an exciting experience.
  2. 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.

Become Involved, and Fast

 For many students who come from underserved communities the vastness of a college campus can be extremely overwhelming. Having the grades to make it into college is just part of the equation to a successful college equation.

Campus life, at first, may provide its own difficulties. 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, students should seek out peer groups with whom they can identify, creating a smaller community within the larger student body.