College is a hugely different world from high school – and your first days on campus can be intimidating, whether you’re close to home or far away for the first time. As you go through your first weeks, you may feel a little bit like you’re drowning. Fortunately, there are plenty of people at your school ready to toss you a life preserver.
On the Scholarship America blog, we’ve created a “Who’s Who on Campus” guide that walks you through nearly twenty different people, job titles and offices that can help you get your bearings. Here are some details about the four most essential connections to make as soon as your higher education journey begins (or sooner)!
Financial Aid Office/Financial Aid Advisors
Paying for college has probably been on you and your family’s minds since well before senior year. And, chances are, you’ll be in touch with your school’s financial aid office well before you even get to college. The financial aid process really starts as soon as you apply to a school – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows you to submit your family’s financial information and expected family contribution to the colleges you’re interested in, and that info helps the school develop their financial aid offer.
Those offers will come from your potential school or schools’ financial aid offices, and they will go a long way in telling you how much you’ll actually need to pay for your freshman year. They can also be pretty confusing, and that’s where your financial aid advisor comes in.
Don’t be afraid to call, email or chat with an advisor in the financial aid office early and often as you make your final decision about where to go to college. They can give you vital information about grant, loan and work-study options; about how the college treats private scholarships; and about expenses like rent, transportation and general living costs that may not be captured in your formal financial aid offer.
Like everyone on this list, financial aid office staff are there to help you make sense of an often difficult process; you, your parents and your mentors should turn to them first as you figure out what you can afford.
The other connection you’ll want to make as soon as you can after picking a college is with the academic advising department. Some schools will assign you a specific advisor; others will have an open office. Either way, these folks are intimately familiar with graduation requirements, manageable course loads and how to get from your first day to your degree.
A good academic advisor is especially helpful if you’re trying to balance work and school or if you’re living some distance from campus. They’ll work with you to ensure you’re making the best use of your time, by finding the right combination of classes you need for your degree and those that work with your schedule. Time management is one of the hardest things to master as you start college, and a smartly designed educational plan is a huge plus.
Academic advisors can also provide some financial aid help. If you know your intended major, ask to speak with an advisor who studied in the same field; they’ll be able to give you tips on grant and scholarship opportunities within your department, along with some inside information as to what skills and qualities those scholarship providers are looking for. Remember: the scholarship search doesn’t stop just because you’re in school!
This article from Study Break calls this “the most helpful office on campus,” and we agree it deserves a spot in this list. The Career Services office on your campus is your jumping-off point for connecting your education with the working world.
If you plan to work while you’re on campus – as around 7 out of 10 college students do – the advisors in the career services office (sometimes known as the career center) can help you find jobs that will fit with your schedule. These may be off-campus opportunities or, if you qualify, they may be “work-study” jobs on campus. These jobs are funded by the school and calculated into your financial aid package; the process can be somewhat confusing, so take advantage of this office’s expertise.
When it comes to finding a job based on your degree, the career services office can help you take the next step. You can connect with occupational experts that can help you find internships, learn how to make the most of job fairs, develop a resume and ace job interviews.
Writing Centers and Homework Helpers
Even the most accomplished high school students sometimes hit a wall when it comes to college academics. Maybe it’s a required course outside your area of expertise, or a particularly challenging paper, or a tough class taught by the professor who (literally) wrote the textbook. One way or another, you’re going to face academic challenges.
That’s where writing centers, tutoring offices and homework helpers come in. Found on most campuses, these offices are usually staffed by a mix of professionals and volunteers, with a variety of skills and subject areas. Don’t hesitate to use their services early and often – teaching you can be a learning opportunity for them and a great peer-to-peer connection for you.
What’s more, like all of these offices, they can indirectly help you pay for college too. Learning tips and tricks for college writing won’t just help you in class, but on those scholarship and grant applications. And standing out academically means you’re more likely to qualify for departmental scholarships as an upperclassman. By connecting with academic, career and financial help as soon as you get to college, you’re making an investment in your college success that will pay off for years down the road.
About Scholarship America
Scholarship America is a nonprofit organization that helps students fulfill their college dreams. Since 1958, Scholarship America has distributed $4.2 billion to more than 2.5 million students. The organization works with partners to lower barriers to a college education and give students the support needed to succeed. Learn more at scholarshipamerica.org.