The article also included this sobering statistic: “Nearly two-thirds of D.C. high school graduates enroll in college, but only 38 percent earn a degree within five years.” (The latest national six-year graduation rate was 58 percent.)
What can D.C. graduates do to increase their chances of staying in school and earning a degree?
Below are a few tips that I often hear at orientation sessions or from those who work closely with first-generation or low-income students. I urge you to share additional advice in the comments section.
Your No. 1 goal is t
o get a degree. You need to start college with full determination to finish college. Make sure that your relatives and friends understand and support this goal. If any obstacle pops up — from a low grade on a quiz, to a textbook that you can’t afford, to a health issue — ask for help immediately.
Pick a school where your chances of success are the highest.
Those who graduated this spring have likely already locked-in on a college for this fall, so this advice is geared to younger students or those still making up their minds.
An admissions official in Maryland once told me that the best question that a first-generation student can ask when searching for a school is this: How does a student like me do at your school?
Ask what mentoring programs, support services, financial assistance and other opportunities the college offers for students like you. Ask to talk with a current student who attended a high school like yours.
Ideally, you want to attend a well-regarded school with a variety of academic offerings (ask your guidance counselors for suggestions) that graduates a large majority of its students (the U.S. Department of Education tracks graduation rates) with low average rates of student loan debt (check out the Project on Student Loan Debt). You want to pick a school where you know that you will be comfortable, challenged and successful.
Get as much financial assistance as possible. Money is one of the leading reasons that students drop out of college. Start your freshman year with a clear understanding of your expenses (including tuition, fees, housing, food, books, entertainment, clubs and transportation) and how you will pay those expenses (including grants, scholarships, money you have saved, money from your relatives or loans that must be repaid).
Most D.C. students can receive $10,000 a year toward tuition at a public college or university, or $2,500 per year at a historically black college or a private D.C. school through the District of Columbia’s Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) program. Make sure that you have submitted the proper paperwork to receive this funding.