The college admissions process is complicated for any student, but students without family members who are college graduates face more obstacles than most. A new documentary film, First Generation, follows four such high school students as they attempt to navigate this complex process without the experience and supports many of their peers take for granted.
The four California students featured in the documentary come from different cultural backgrounds, but experience similar family and financial challenges. There is no one at home or school to guide them, suggest they raise their sights to top-tier schools, or anticipate deadlines. No one to push to make sure their essays are written, explain how pricing and financial aid work, or generally provide moral support. When meeting with guidance counselors, many of the students struggle to obtain the basic information they require such as application deadlines and the availability of fee waivers.
For students from families focused on the daily need to make ends meet, even public colleges and universities seem out of their price range. Without someone to explain that the “sticker price” of an institution is not its real price, students are hesitant to fork over $50-$100 to apply to a school they think they won’t be able to afford even if they do get admitted. And make no mistake, many of these students have the grades and resumes to be admitted. What they lack is knowledge of the financial aid available to them and how to apply for it.
First Generation, through its poignant story telling, conveys a core truth about our K-12 education system and society. Low-income students, like their more affluent peers, want to go to college, but they need more help to make that dream a reality. But, many of our high schools and communities are failing to provide those supports in any meaningful way.
— Nicole Tortoriello