Removing Barriers to College

Removing Barriers to College

Local services help students complete college paperwork, remove barriers.

Parents and students attend a college readiness presentation at Westover Public Library in Arlington. While completing the necessary paperwork to attend college can overwhelm some, local educators say there are community resources to help.

Parents and students attend a college readiness presentation at Westover Public Library in Arlington. While completing the necessary paperwork to attend college can overwhelm some, local educators say there are community resources to help. Photo courtesy of George Mason University

LaQuita King relocated across the state from Chesapeake, Va., to Alexandria in the summer of 2013, moving into an apartment with her aunt and three cousins. King had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College. So far, that hasn’t happened.

“There were a lot of financial aid forms that I needed to fill out,” said King, who is one of six children in her family and the first to finish high school. “Everything is online and if you make one mistake you have to start over. There were a ton of registration forms that I had to fill out. It just got to be too much.”

Finally, King got a job, although she still hopes to attend college one day. Her plight, say college officials, is not uncommon. In fact, the amount of paperwork that students must complete can overwhelm some students, particularly those with limited financial means and who might be the first in their families to seek higher education. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University showed that the stacks of forms that students must complete in order to enroll in college deter students from lower and working class backgrounds.

Where to Go for Help with College Paperwork

Fairfax County

Arlington County

City of Alexandria

“Paperwork can sometimes hinder some students from attending because they may not know how to follow up in regards to what documents to submit, or may be afraid to do it and get discouraged if they do not have someone to help them figure out how to complete paperwork and requirements,” said Laydy Reyes, program coordinator, Early Identification Program in George Mason University's Division of University Life.

However, programs, on college campuses and in the community can assist students. “There are counselors and programs available to help them,” said Jennifer Gonzalez of the Public Information Office at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). “There are some students who don’t know how to fill out forms and our counselors have a full range of tools to help those students.”

For example, NOVA’s College Pathway Initiatives is a set of four programs that provides support and service to students from underrepresented populations. The initiatives help remove some barriers to higher education while helping increase the number of students who succeed in and graduate from college.

REYES HAS SEEN FIRSTHAND how a simple bit of assistance can mean the difference between attending college and not. “[There is] a Mason student who comes from a single parent household. … The student was granted a scholarship through the Early Identification Program and Mason’s financial aid services that has helped to pay for the student’s college education,” she said. “The student is currently a senior working on a degree in bioengineering.”

Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP) has a long record of helping first generation students from low-income families cross some of the hurdles to a higher education. “Mason’s Admissions Office plays an instrumental role of support in collaborating with EIP regarding the college application process so that it is more simple, and that our students receive advice and resources to complete the application and successfully transition to Mason,” said Reyes.

Some of the services that George Mason University offers are college essay and resume workshops where students have access to a computer lab and assistance completing college entrance essays. Mason also has no-cost Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) workshops where students and their families meet in a computer lab and get assistance completing financial aid forms.

Reyes points to other programs on campus that are available to assist students:

  • College Prep — For three weeks during the summer, students are introduced to financial aid advisors, academic advisors, and others who could be a resource to students once they are in college.
  • During Mason’s Early Identification Program annual Summer Academy at the Fairfax and Prince William campuses, they begin to work on the Mason admissions application so that it is ready to submit in the fall.
  • During their senior year of high school, Mason officials work to make sure students in the Early Identification Program submit the online application and required documents such as the essay, recommendation letters, secondary school report, SAT/ACT scores.

AT MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY in Arlington, newly accepted students receive an acceptance package with detailed instructions on completing forms. The university hosts campus visit days where students can learn about the school and get assistance completing necessary paperwork. Financial aid officers are also available to help students identify available scholarships and ensure that all financial aid paperwork is complete.

Services offered by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, including the Catholic Charities Education Program, can also assist students who might experience difficulty cutting through the college paperwork red tape.

“Christian Area Network and Hogar Immigrant Services are two programs that can help students complete paperwork necessary for college,” said Maria Drule of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

Arlington County Public Libraries can also be a source of assistance. Local school counselors and other counseling professionals offer free or low-cost assistance.

“I … am available for one-on-one assistance with an appointment,” said Kathryn Oberg of Arlington County Public Libraries. “For quick help, patrons are encouraged to approach a professional librarian at any of our branch libraries for assistance finding information.”

Meanwhile, King has a full-time job and is not sure when she will resume her efforts to get a college education. She is pleased to know that there are services in the City of Alexandria, as well as Arlington and Fairfax counties that can guide students through the maze of paperwork and lead them to a college classroom, and hopes to use them soon.