What You Need to Know About College Applications and FAFSA

By Michelle Sandoval, Leader Program Manager, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera

College applications are now available, which typically excites and stresses out many students. I thought it would be a great opportunity to answer some of the most common questions that I’m typically asked about the process. And since we’re on the topic of applications, I’m also going to address the importance of filling out and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible, as it determines each student’s eligibility for student aid.

Here’s what you need to know:

College Applications and Deadlines

There are four types of college applications and each with their own deadlines.
1. University of California application deadline is November 30th, but you can submit them as early as November 1st.
2. California State University application deadline is November 30th, but they have been accepting applications since October 1st.
3. Private university applications are submitted through the Common Application, and application deadlines vary by university so it’s important to check each school’s website for details.
4. Private university applications that will be submitted through the University’s individual website also have varying deadlines, so please check each school’s website for details.
Fee Waivers for College Applications
If students have not submitted their application for Free or Reduced Lunch this academic year, we recommend they do so ASAP. Qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch will provide students with SAT/ACT exam waivers (for Juniors and Seniors). Students who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch typically qualify for fee waivers for most college applications. If a student finds that they are not eligible for a college application fee waiver due to their household income but know that his/her family will have a hard time covering the application cost, I recommend that the student contact each school’s admissions office to explain their situation. The individual college admissions office may be able to provide a code to waive the fee of that specific application for the student.

Maintain Your GPA!!!

“Senioritis” is real for a lot of students; however, now is not the time to slack off. Students may find that juggling all of the senior year festivities, plus the weight of rigorous courses takes a lot of energy. While senior year grades will not be added into college applications there are TWO main reasons why you should not slack off:
1. Colleges like to see that students are continuing to challenge themselves throughout their ENTIRE high school career. College applications will require that you report which classes you are/will be taking during you senior year.
2. Colleges will hold you accountable for successfully completing the classes you noted in your application. This means you definitely should not be failing out of any courses. Some colleges will also require that you submit a mid-year report after the first semester. Changes in your schedule or failed courses could result in your college admission letters being revoked!
FAFSA/Dream Act – This is the financial aid part, so read with care…

As we all know, college is by no means inexpensive. That is why it is imperative that students submit FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications as early as possible as it determines eligibility for student financial aid. But please proceed with care and do not submit the application without having it checked by a counselor or knowledgeable representative on your campus. Each year the FAFSA application changes ever so slightly, so filling out the application to the best of your knowledge, and then reviewing it with a counselor or knowledgeable representative is highly recommended. Questions are very specific to each individual household and one tiny error can cost a student to lose thousands of dollars in financial aid. And please start the process early! Review the requirements and get any confusing or unclear questions clarified. Submitting a thoroughly reviewed FAFSA application prevents the need to make corrections down the road, which could cause students to miss the FAFSA deadline or affect the overall financial aid total.

Before applying for FAFSA, a student should gather the following important documents:
1. Social Security numbers for students and parents, or Alien Registration Numbers for non-U.S. citizens.
2. Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID – create an FSA ID online, which gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems.
3. Driver’s license or other eligible government ID.
4. Tax returns for students and/or parents.
5. Asset records such as bank statements and investments.
6. Records of untaxed income, such as child support.
7. Federal school codes for the schools you will apply to. We have those readily available at the ERHS College and Career Center.
Gathering the documents you’ll need to complete the FAFSA could actually take more time than filling out the application, so please start this process early. On average, it only takes about 31 minutes to fill out the FAFSA/Dream Act if a student comes in with all documents on hand! The deadline for California schools is March 2, 2018 for eligible California and Federal aid. AND keep in mind that individual colleges and universities may have different financial aid deadlines, so always be sure to check each school’s website.

Finally, Ask for Help!
If you or your parent(s) need additional help or have a question about college applications or FAFSA, please don’t hesitate to contact me. It’s a lot of information to process and many dates to track, so I’m happy to help everyone have a positive application process.

College “Fly In” Program Part 2: Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute at The University of Pennsylvania  

In the first of this two-part series, we spoke with El Rancho High School student Daniel Castañeda, a senior ERHS student, who attended Caminos al Futuro, a fully funded “Fly In” summer program at George Washington (GW) University.


This month we are featuring Lara Roman-Lopez, also a senior at ERHS, to learn about her experience with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute’s Fly In program at the University of Pennsylvania.


What inspired you to apply for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute?

            I applied for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s YLI because I realized I was off track in the college process.  I had no idea what colleges I wanted to apply for and how to write a personal statement.  After learning about the opportunity through Michelle Sandoval, Generation 1st Degree’s program manager, and Mrs. Nasouf, the College and Career Counselor at ERHS, I decided that this was something that I needed to do, so I applied.


How did your parents feel about you going away, out of state? How did you feel?

            My parents were very nervous for me because I have never done anything like this.  I too was incredibly nervous because I had no idea how I was going to get there, but the moment I was leaving my house, I knew this was going to be a great experience, and the feeling that I got of when I walked around campus proved that it was really going to be great.


How did you feel traveling alone, especially if it was your first time?

            The moment I got to the airport and had to wait for the shuttle that would be taking me was a very scary moment.  When arriving to UPenn, I realized that they sent me the wrong address, so I went around the school for like an hour with my huge duffel bag trying to find the dorms, which was very frustrating, but as I was walking around I really got to experience the feeling of being on campus and exploring.


What was the experience was like?

            It was a great experience and I believe everyone should take the time to apply for this.  I was given the opportunity to meet people from places like Texas, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even Puerto Rico. The experience gave me the ability to recognize that a lot of my dreams are truly achievable.


What were the top 3 things you learned about leadership while you were there?

The top 3 things I learned were:                                                                                

  1. Networking is truly important,
  2. How to recognize others for who they are, and
  3. Leadership starts with having self-confidence.


What did you think living on campus would be like before this program? Did it meet your expectations, or was it totally different and how/why?

            Before this I thought living on campus with a bunch of strangers was going to be weird.  This program, though, really surprised me because I got really close with my other two roommates who are from Texas and Georgia, and I still keep in contact with them.  Overall, living on campus seems like a great experience because you get to be right in the center of everything.


Was there anything that surprised you about the leadership experience or living away from home?

            I was surprised how having self-confidence can change so much.  Many activities that we did just required having confidence, and the activities such as the networking activity proved how crucial confidence is in trying to communicate feelings and ideas.


What would you say to students who aren’t willing to apply to out of state schools?

I would tell students who aren’t willing to apply to out of state schools that it doesn’t hurt.  Going to an out of state school is not as scary as you think and it allows individuals to develop a sense of independence, which was something I heard a lot from mentors that went to places such as UVA, Yale, Harvard, and Emory.  


Have your goals for college changed because of this experience?

            My goals for college have honestly changed because this program showed me that a lot of schools I thought were out of reach are honestly not.  This program gave me a sense of confidence to not be afraid to apply to as many colleges that I have recognized as reach schools.


College “Fly In” programs are designed to provide qualifying students a chance to experience college life, often out of state. Many “Fly In” programs are offered at no cost, and include travel expenses, room and board, and enrollment into a leadership or diversity program. They are an exceptional way to experience college life, and G1DPR encourages students to seek out and apply for these life-enhancing opportunities.

The Month Ahead

Last May, during College Signing Day, I challenged the graduating class of 2018 to beat the number of college-bound students from the class of 2017. I know you all can do it!

Our goal at Generation 1st Degree is to make sure that each of our El Rancho students fully explores his or her college-going potential. To inspire students to reach higher, we organize trips for students to visit college campuses, as well as invite admissions representatives from colleges to present to the students right on ERHS’s campus. In fact, in just the last few weeks, many of our students paid a visit to UCLA’s College Fair, and participated in informational presentations at ERHS from admissions representatives from Notre Dame De Namur University and Mount St. Mary’s University.

We’ll have more of these opportunities in the coming weeks, and I highly encourage ALL students to attend each one. You may think a certain college is out of your league, but you might learn that the admissions office is looking for a student just like you.

With many college applications due November 30th, it is true that students will be spending their Thanksgiving weekend putting the finishing touches on those applications. It is a stressful time of year, but students and parents should know that we are here for them as a resource and for support. Go DONS!

Jacki Cisneros