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Breaking Barriers: A First-Generation Haitian American's Guide to College


College student representing first-generation haitian american

My parents migrated from Haiti with the aspiration of providing their children with a better life in the United States. They arrived with nothing but hope. As a first-generation Haitian American and college student, I cannot pinpoint what exactly motivated me to pursue a college education. However, I was encouraged from a young age that obtaining a college degree was crucial for leading a better life. As I navigated through the college experience, I learned about funding options and support systems available to students. With that knowledge, I created a beginner's guide to college, explaining how to pay for college and who can help you throughout your college journey.


Early Awareness Programs


Early awareness is crucial before applying to college. College transition programs, often referred to as Bridge Programs, are designed to encourage students to think about college and offer support services for students in need before entering college. These programs vary by state, high school, and college. Starting as early as your junior year of high school, but no later than the summer before the start of the fall term, is highly recommended.


Funding for College


Finding funding for college can be a daunting task, especially for first-generation students. My mother, for instance, did not have the knowledge to guide me through the process of affording college. However, scholarships and grants are need-based forms of funding for college students that can be academic-based, athletic-based, or merit-based. 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). Applying to FAFSA is the first step in receiving the majority of the grant or scholarship opportunities that are federally funded and need-based. The application typically opens on October 1st, and the deadline is June 30th for the 2018-2019 academic year. It is recommended that you apply early to receive priority consideration. Colleges also offer grants and scholarships, which can be merit-based, need-based, or combined. Private organizations, such as companies, foundations, clubs, and community organizations, also offer grants or scholarships. Loans are another option, but it is recommended to exhaust federal loans before considering private loans.


Who Can Help?


Finding the right support system is critical when it comes to navigating the college experience. Adult advisors and peer mentors can offer valuable insight into the college application process, financial aid, and academic success. Adult advisors can be high school teachers, guidance counselors, professors, work supervisors, pastors, or university/college faculty members. Peer mentors are typically college students who have already achieved academic success in your major of study. They are equally important as adult advisors because they can provide practical advice and guidance, having recently gone through the college experience themselves.



College can be a challenge for first-generation students, but it also presents a plethora of opportunities and rewards. By utilizing the funding options and support systems available, you can successfully navigate through college and achieve academic success.

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