RESOURCESTOOLS FOR STUDENTS AND STUDENT SUPPORTERS
Plan ahead for college. Navigate the college admissions and financial aid process.
Each tab has tools for students and their families to get prepared for college and complete the steps of the application and financial aid process. Find guidelines, suggestions, helpful downloadable PDF documents, terms and website links on this page.
Types of Colleges
At Bridges, college includes two and four-year institutions of higher education. Two-year colleges, also called community colleges, can provide certificates in a skill or trade or an associate degree. This is either a standalone degree, or creates the foundation for a transfer to a four-year college. At four-year colleges, either public or private, students can earn bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees. All colleges have their own academic preparation, admissions process and characteristics. Learn more: Community College FAQs and Types of Colleges.
College Admissions Requirements
College admissions requirements vary depending on type of college and the college’s selectivity. Two-year colleges – often called community colleges – have open enrollment, whereas four-year colleges can range from open enrollment to highly selective. Learn more: Types of Colleges.
Create a College List
A College List consists of the colleges where you will apply. It can be as simple as one school or more complex. You may be certain what your next step after graduating from high school or with an HSE will be, or where you can best fulfill your goals. If you have several options in mind – or many – consider creating a College List. Your list may include schools with a range of academic styles, available courses of study, location, extracurricular activities and student population demographic and size, amongst other considerations. Any of these colleges will ideally be a good fit for your learning style, academic, career and life goals, and whatever else you determine to be most important for your needs.
If you are applying to several schools or more, consider applying to schools that encompass a range of selectivity. Some of these schools will be less and some more challenging to gain admittance. Although cost is likely an important consideration for you and/or your family, you may find that what seems like a hefty price tag may be more reasonable and affordable when you receive a financial aid award letter. That’s when you will ultimately choose the right school for you. Note that you will probably want to limit you College List to a manageable number.
There are many tools that can help you create a College List. Bridges has college guidebooks you can use in our office. These can also be borrowed for free from your local public library or the counselor’s office at your high school, or purchased at bookstores, both storefront and online. Online college search tools can help you identify the factors that are most important to you at the school where you will eventually be enrolled. Each college can be researched further through their own website and brochures, or by asking questions of those who are enrolled in or have attended the school that interests you.
Online College Search Websites
The best way to learn about a school and its fit for you is to make a college visit. You will have the opportunity to tour the campus, speak with students, faculty and admissions officers, join a class in session – ideally in the major that you intend to pursue – and even tour the college dorms and facilities. Colleges may host an Open House for all prospective students or a Fly-In Visit for academically competitive students they’re seeking to attract.
Finances, time or other resources might be limited, so you may only be able to visit the school at the top of your list. High school or students in HSE programs may be able to go on a college visit through a school or program sponsored trip, especially to regional or state colleges and universities. Find out if your school hosts a college fair, because many colleges will be represented at this kind of event. However you are able, take any opportunity to ask the questions you can’t necessarily learn the answers to from a book or website.
Students who are certificate or degree-seeking must submit high school and HSE, along with any college transcripts for admissions purposes. Some scholarship applications also request academic transcripts. Obtaining a transcript varies for each type, but there are several things to note that are the same for all transcript requests. One, make your request early; two, be certain that you send official transcripts when requested; and third, verify that your transcript is sent to the correct email or mail address. Note that transcripts, like other admission requirements, must be submitted by the college’s admission deadline.
Recommendations may be required for some college admissions applications and merit-based scholarships. Recommenders can include your high school counselor, teacher and/or art or music instructor (if you are applying to an arts-based college). Any recommendation requests should be made early, up to four to six weeks in advance.
High school students should choose core content high school teachers, preferably those with whom they have a positive relationship and who know them well enough to create a personalized letter. Bridges suggests that you provide your recommender with a resume or activity sheet so that person can more accurately address your academics, activities and strengths. Ask your recommender(s) to save a copy of your recommendation for all your application and scholarship needs.
Each college has its own method for applying to that school. Many offer their own online and paper applications, with their own requirements and deadlines. Some colleges and universities, especially private schools, offer other methods for applying. The Common Application is one option that allows you to fill out one common application and essay for over 700 schools in the US. The Coalitition for Access, Affordability and Success offers one single application for 130 member schools in the the US. The schools that you apply to through both of these application portals may require you to submit additional materials.
A college or scholarship application may include an essay. This is an important opportunity for you to communicate who you are, including what has formed you and the direction where you hope to head. Write about what is meaningful to you, what you are passionate about and from your own perspective. Remember that good writing can become great writing through the revision process, so give yourself plenty of time and the tools to write, edit and polish your essay. Do your best work. Essay Writing Tips
ACT and SAT
Test scores for either the ACT or SAT may be required for the college to which you are applying. Some merit-based scholarship applications also require ACT or SAT test scores. These two timed tests include math, reading and English. The ACT also includes science reasoning. Both tests can be taken with an optional essay.
Bridges recommends that students who take the ACT and/or SAT take each test once to determine the best fit, retake either one or both to improve their score and, most importantly, students practice the test(s) using the allowed time limit. There are a number of free websites where students can study for the ACT and SAT. Be certain that you test scores will be available in time for your college and/or scholarship application deadline(s).
Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)
First year undergraduate students in New Mexico who are interested in studying out-of-state have the opportunity to do so at a number of public two and four-year colleges in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming through the WUE program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). This can be a more affordable way for students to experience college away from home. Tuition for WUE students is 150% of in-state tuition. Most WUE programs have eligibility requirements and can have restrictions for some degree programs. To learn more about the WUE program, including which schools are eligible and what programs they offer, visit the Western Undergraduate Exchange website.
Financial Aid Terms
Financial aid can help you pay for college or make it affordable to attend the college of your choice. You don’t know what you might be eligible for unless you apply! There are various types of financial aid sources, including Federal and state governments, college or university specific and private organizations. The primary application that helps determine your eligibility for Federal funds is the FAFSA. State financial aid is usually reserved for in-state residents. Private organizations have their own eligibility criteria. To learn more about different types of financial aid and what impact financial aid can have in helping you or your student go to college, download Bridges’ Financial Aid Terms.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) determines how much you and/or your family can contribute towards your college education and what type of Federal grants, loans and/or work-study for which you are eligible. The FAFSA application opens on October 1 and closes on June 30. Each college has their own priority deadline, which is generally prior to March 1. It’s important to keep track of the priority deadline date for the school(s) to which you apply. You will be considered for federal grants and loans throughout the entire application period. However, after the priority deadline state grants and scholarships may not be available.
In order to apply for the FAFSA, you will first need to create a FSA-ID. This consists of a username and password, which a student and a signing parent or guardian must use to confirm their identity when accessing financial aid information and signing Federal student aid documents.
To learn more about the FAFSA application and what you will need to complete it, download Bridges’ FAFSA Preparation Checklist.
The CSS Profile is a financial aid requirement for some colleges and universities. It is used to determine a student’s eligibility for institutional financial aid, including grants and scholarships. Check a college’s website to learn if that school requires the CSS Profile, which will be in addition to the FAFSA. The priority deadline for the CSS Profile is different at each school.
New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship
The New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship can be a great financial assistance to New Mexico residents graduating from New Mexico high schools and recent NM HSE graduates. Students must enroll full-time at a public two or four-year college or university in New Mexico within 16 months of completing their diploma or passing their HSE. This scholarship covers a portion of the tuition over three semesters at a two-year school and seven semesters at a four-year school, beginning in the second semester of a student’s first year. Some students may be eligible for a ‘gap’ scholarship to help pay for their first semester at college. The Lottery scholarship has eligibility requirements that must be met to be obtained and continued. You can learn more about the Lottery scholarship and other grant or scholarship opportunities for New Mexico residents attending New Mexico colleges on the New Mexico Higher Education Department website or upload Bridges’ New Mexico Lottery Scholarship infosheet.
There are a wide range of local, state, regional and national scholarships available to students who are eligible and apply for them. While many are merit-based on a student’s academics, others emphasize student activities, such as leadership and community service. Some scholarships focus on athletics, while others are based on affiliation with particular organizations, school or youth clubs. Scholarships can be heritage-based – such as tribal scholarships – aim to support underrepresented students in certain fields – such as women who will pursue STEM careers – or help lower-income students with financial need pursue a college education. There are even scholarships that have little to no eligibility.
You can learn more about scholarships from your high school counselor or school website, or in scholarships in Bridges’ blog. There are numerous scholarship finder websites, many of which require you to create an account. Their benefit is that you can tailor your search to the personal criteria that you define. You can also investigate scholarship sources through personal or family employment or organizational membership.
Do not pay to find or apply for scholarships, as this information is available with research. The “too good to be true” scholarship offer is often a scam.
Listed below are scholarship search sites:
- Chegg Scholarships
- College Board Scholarships
- Scholarship Guidance
- Student Scholarships
Listed below are scholarships that might be beneficial for you to apply for:
College preparation means something different to every student and their family. Planning ahead is always a good idea, and Bridges does meet with younger students and families to help you plan ahead. We also offer suggestions here to help guide you in a positive and proactive direction, based on a student’s grade level. Below that are other tools a student and their family can use to prepare for higher education. The Federal Student Aid website offers extensive checklists for high school students, parents and non-traditional age students.
- Middle school is a great time to consider what engages your interest in class and the activities that you like to do. How do you spend your free time? Get involved in extracurricular activities that spark your passion, whether that means arts, athletics, clubs or community service. Think about how what you enjoy might become a career. Try something new. Look ahead and plan what classes you will take now and later in high school. You may choose to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade to get a jump on your high school math classes.
- 9th grade is the perfect time to create an action plan for high school. Get to know your high school counselor. Delve more deeply into your interests and how you might transform that into a career. Form good study habits. Read as much and as widely as possible. Start talking to your parent(s) or guardian(s) about financing college. Take the most challenging classes that you are capable of taking.
- 10th grade is an appropriate time to check back in with your school counselor to be sure that you have the necessary credits to be eligible for the upper level classes that you hope to take in 11th and 12th grade. Find summer opportunities, such as a camp, internship, job or a volunteer position. Take the PSAT – it’s good preperation for the SAT and ACT.
- 11th grade is the time to sign up for your first ACT and SAT tests. Obtain test waivers if you have financial need. Work on an activity list or a resume. Strive to create a balance between school work, studying and the rest of life. Commit to the activities that fulfill you, whether it’s extracurriculars or a job. Start researching colleges – think about what might be a good fit for you and your goals.
- 12th grade is when the bulk of your work happens. Refine your college list to a manageable number. Get application and test fee waivers if you have financial need. Create a calendar for all the deadlines that you need to keep track of. It’s time to start applying to colleges and for scholarships. Who will be your recommenders? Fill out the FAFSA and the CSS Profile (if relevant). Write, edit and polish any essays you might need to work on. After you have recieved acceptance letters, review their financial aid award packages. Then it’s time to decide where you will attend college.
Bridges is available to help you or the student in your life through any and all of these steps.
There are numerous ways to increase the effectiveness of the time you spend studying. Habits you establish in middle and high school can positively influence your study habits in college.
- Make a reasonable study schedule and set study goals.
- Know the expectations for the classes that you’re taking.
- Study in smaller chunks of time and study every day. Avoiding cramming.
- Where you study is important. Quiet and uncluttered spaces are best.
- Use practice tests and flashcards to quiz yourself and simulate testing day.
- Do the hardest studying or assignment first.
- Vary your study conditions – study alone, with a partner or in a study group.
- Understand your learning style so you can study most effectively.
- Take breaks throughout the study session. Stretch, walk, breath and reward yourself for your efforts.
Learning how to budget and keep track of personal finances will benefit all young people as they enter adulthood, in particular for those who are college-bound. Work with your child, tween or teen to teach them how to follow the basic steps of budgeting:
- Determine income, or the money that your child obtains from birthday and holiday gifts, allowance and jobs. This may be a good opportunity for a student to begin to learn the value of work through odd jobs, such as yard work and babysitting, or employment after school, on weekends and through the summer.
- After looking at student income, help your child determine their personal expenses. Although they probably do not have any bills in their name, there are expenses they may make on occasion, such as books, clothes or entertainment purchases, and monthly recurring expenses, like phone or internet fees or expenditures from using a vehicle, such as insurance, gas and repairs. You may choose to share your own cost-of-living picture with them as they’re older, as it is important for soon-to-be adults to understand the financial reality of being an adult.
- Compare income and expenses. What is the amount left over in a student’s income after they pay their expenses? Although this may be a theoretical exercise, students benefit from knowing how income and expenses can align or be out of sync. If a student has money remaining after paying their expenses, they may choose to spend it or save it, perhaps even for college. If they are spending more than their income, they might consider getting a job of some variety.
- Employment, whether odd jobs such as yard work or babysitting, or more consistent employment after school, on weekends or through the summer, can bring numerous benefits and teach a wealth of skills. Students can learn directly about personal finances, earn their own money, add to college savings and gain professional experiences. Some studies have shown that students who work part-time may have improved academic performance, as long as they do not neglect their school work and abandon the extracurricular activities that fulfill them. It’s important to note, however, that high school seniors who earn over a certain amount ($6,420 for the 2017-2018 FAFSA), may see a reduction in their financial aid award package.
Saving ahead to help your child witht the costs of attending college cannot start early enough. Set aside extra funds in an account as you are able, or consider a dedicated plan. A 529 plan, or college savings plan, encourages saving for college costs. New Mexico offers two types of 529 plans, The Education Plan and Scholar’s Edge.
Speak with your child about college or have someone do so who has experienced college. Help them set goals and make plans toward their future. Set up an appointment with Bridges.
Help your child create good study habits. See the Study Habits section on this page.