By: Savanah Schott, senior program manager, State Engagement

picture of SavanahAs students across the nation head back to the classroom, we are celebrating First-Generation students. A First-Generation College Student is defined as a student whose parents didn’t attend college; or is the first person in their immediate family to attend college; or neither parent has at least one year of college. This month, we are sharing stories from ACT colleagues who are First -Generation College Students.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?

My parents supported me the most. While they were not familiar with the steps that needed to occur to get to college, they were always by my side. We were referred to the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN) for college readiness tips and information on what the FAFSA was and how to complete it. Once in college, my college advisors pushed me to “think big” about my future. They also supported me when selecting classes, identifying internships, and in supporting research proposals.

What advice would you give to a first-generation college student today?

Breathe and do your best. Find a mentor. If it’s possible, start thinking about what classes you can take in high school to set yourself up for postsecondary success. Join clubs and participate in school activities to see what you like and dislike, and to also build up your resume. If your school counselor isn’t accessible, try to find a teacher, community member, or other mentor to guide you through the process.

Apply for every scholarship you can – even $100 will offset the price of textbooks. When you get to college, make sure you have an advisor you trust and one that will advocate for you. Getting into college is the first step. A good advisor will push you and open your mind to opportunities you never thought possible.

If you can, work part time during school and try to find a summer internship that pays. Always remember that it’s ok to ask for help. Finally, take a deep breath when life becomes overwhelming. Things will get better.

What was your largest worry during that time?

Financing college. I applied for every scholarship I could and worked two to three jobs while in college. I was responsible for about 95% of my education and even with scholarship funding and working part time I had a few moments of panic. After my freshman year, my parents and I received the tuition and assistance package in the mail for my sophomore year. My parent’s income had increased a few hundred dollars and as a result, I was no longer eligible for some need-based funding. I nearly had a panic attack and didn’t know how I was going to manage to pay for the next year. Needless to say, I saved money where I could, worked a few more hours, and everything turned out to be fine.

Savanah Schott is a senior program manager within the State and Federal Programs department at ACT. In this role she works with passionate education and workforce volunteers in 10 states to cultivate the ACT mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success. Savanah majored in Psychology and Public Relations (B.A.) at Coe College and recently earned an MBA from the University of Iowa Tippie School of Business.