Access to Education

Picking a university. Negotiating the college application process. Looking for scholarships. And, finally, paying tuition.

It can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re the first person in your family to go to college.

Ohio State can help. The university’s Economic Access Initiative was created in 2006 to help high school students achieve the American dream of a college education.

Tally Hart, the senior advisor to the initiative, has some advice on how students can prepare for college—both academically and financially.

Start getting ready early in high school:

  • Take the hard classes: Algebra I as soon as possible, Algebra II before you graduate, and the highest sciences offered. “You can get through graduation requirements and take more general math and science,” Hart says, “but that isn’t going to make you a strong candidate for success in college.”
  • Take the ACT and SAT tests junior year. (Fee waivers are available—if you can’t pay the test fees, ask your guidance counselor for help.)
  • Visit some colleges to decide where you want to apply. Then narrow the field by talking to faculty (ask them questions!), going to a class or two, and spending a night on campus.
  • Send out those applications. Hart recommends that high school students apply to a safe school they know they’ll get into; a dream school they’d ideally attend; and one or more schools that fall in between.

Look for scholarships:

  • First and foremost, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which yields a whopping 97 percent of tuition help. (Each February, financial experts throughout the nation offer free help filling out the form at College Goal Sunday, which Hart helped launch in 1989. Check out www.collegegoalsundayusa.org for locations.)
  • Look for scholarships offered at your place of work; your parents’ offices; your church, synagogue, or mosque; and clubs.
  • Seek your high school guidance counselor’s help. “If your guidance counselor says, ‘Look into this scholarship,’” Hart said, “do it.”
  • Use your web savvy to your advantage. Sites such as www.fastweb.com hook students up with individual donors looking to help fund educations. When you’re looking for a site, Hart said, pick one that’s free; that promises never to sell your personal information; and that will contact you directly when a scholarship for which you’re eligible becomes available.

Avoid common mistakes:

  • Don’t wait to be admitted to a college to apply for financial aid. Many students make this mistake, Hart said, and miss deadlines because of that.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply for financial aid because you might be offered loans—you’re not forced to take anything offered to you. “It’s not all or nothing,” Hart said.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a job during school. “This largely comes from parents: ‘My child should never work while they’re in college,” Hart said. Actually, she said, students who work a moderate amount (12 to 15 hours each week) do better in school than their unemployed peers—and work-study opportunities can link students with employers who can link them with academic resources such as tutoring and are flexible around exam time. Moderation is key, though: Students who work full-time while taking a full load of classes are the worst off. “That,” she said, “is not a formula for success.”