Applying for financial aid for college can be complicated enough, but it’s made exponentially more difficult if you and your family are going through the process for the first time. As the numbers show, first-generation students, or students whose parents have not attended college, make up a fairly large percentage of today’s undergraduates.

Nearly a third of undergraduates attending four-year public and private colleges and universities in the U.S. are the first in their families to attend college. Furthermore, University Business reported approximately 24 percent of higher education students are considered both first-generation and low-income.

It’s important for incoming students to know there are many measures that can be taken to overcome a low-income, first-generation standing and secure the money needed for higher education.

The experts at communityforce have compiled the following five tips for first-generation students to consult along the wild financial aid ride:

1. Don’t let sticker shock get the best of you

The price of tuition can be intimidating to many college applicants and their families – even if they have been down this road before. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting there are a multitude of means – including scholarships, grants and loans – you can use to finance your education.

2. Go back to the basics

There are two ideals you should keep in mind throughout the process of applying for financial aid: Stay organized and be aware of all deadlines. Keeping all your information in one accessible location, such as a binder or computer folder, will help ease the process for you. Additionally, you should make note of all upcoming deadlines – such as those for the FAFSA or scholarship applications – in a planner or digital calendar.

3. Fill out your FAFSA in a timely manner

Like all incoming students, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA, which will determine your level of financial need for college. While every college will have its own deadline, you should submit your FAFSA as soon as it becomes available. Financial aid money is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the sooner you submit, the better.

4. Seek out specialized opportunities

In addition to federal- and school-awarded financial aid, several outside funding opportunities exist for first-generation students, particularly those who are low-income. Be sure to seek out scholarship opportunities that are tailored toward your position.

5. Don’t rule out loans

No college student wants to shoulder a federal-based or private student loan, yet – despite their best efforts – many find themselves short of the funding they need for tuition, books, room and board and all the expenses that come with the college experience. In those times, students might consider taking out a loan. If you find yourself in that position, you should pore over the terms of any potential loan agreement and make sure you’re comfortable with them before you sign on the dotted line.

For more information on financial aid and college planning, please visit communityforce website!