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Being the first in your family to get accepted to, attend, and graduate college is both a proud accomplishment and frustrating journey filled with various questions and uncertainties. Sometimes high school counselors aren’t always the most supportive (mine certainly wasn’t), and you’re left fending for yourself. While the payoff is rewarding, you can’t help but think of all the ways the journey could’ve been made just a little bit simpler. When my younger brothers started preparing for college I began getting flashbacks to my own undergraduate struggle. Below are some tips and ways you can help your siblings prepare for their first semester.
Navigating financial aid is the most frustrating part of most college journeys: filling out the form, understanding how to read a financial award, and trying to scrape together the last amount of cash needed if your financial aid package comes up short. Provide tips on how to find on-campus scholarships and prepare for the spring application cycle (yes, new apps open mid-fall that could potentially be applied to your spring aid, not to mention it’s never too early to prepare for the next academic year). If they’re spending the summer applying to scholarships, offer an extra pair of eyes to look over the application to ensure they’re sending in the strongest material.
The most valuable piece of information I ever received was to go to make connections with staff and faculty on campus. You never know when you’re going to need a letter of recommendation from someone that knows not only your academic ability but can attest to your work ethic outside of the classroom. In order to do so, I had to go to office hours and participate in events. I make sure to remind my brothers of this important course of action every year; especially as the middle one enters his fourth year, he’s going to need connections and strong recommenders when he puts himself on the job market.
Ultimately, everybody’s story is filled with different questions and difficulties. Maybe the situations and suggestions in this post don’t necessarily fit the knowledge you want to pass down to your siblings, and that’s perfect. When preparing for this article, I asked my youngest brother what he wished I would’ve emphasized or prepared him for as he got ready for college. In typical cool guy fashion (he’s the cool one in the family), he shook his head, answering, “You told me everything—all your mistakes, and what you wished you would’ve done. I don’t know what else you could’ve told me.” Being open with younger siblings can be terrifying. I always wanted them to see me as the “perfect” and “strong” older sister; however, I wanted to make sure their journey was at least a little less rocky than mine. Achieving that goal meant I had to be open about going to a therapist, talking about my leave of absence, and other aspects of the college experience that doesn’t get shared on the brochure.
The tricky thing about college is that no matter how much you prepare prior to entering freshman year, shit can still hit the ceiling halfway into the semester. Being an older sibling, you’re always on the job—remind your siblings of that. Make sure they know they aren’t maneuvering college by themselves: they have a veteran by their side. If they’re not checking in with you, check in with them. When I was going through my leave of absence I didn’t speak to my family about it. Now I’m mindful of long periods when my brothers and I don’t communicate, making sure to call them to make sure everything is okay. But they know I’m always just a phone call away.
Are there any additional tips you’d like to give to the incoming class of 2022? Let us know in the comments below!