Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.

Happy Halloween! And a happy start to the FAFSA and college application season.

Here at Chalkbeat we’ve been doing listening sessions with parents, and one thing we’ve heard is a desire for more articles with information they can use. And what better way to provide valuable info than tips on how to navigate the challenges of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and college applications.

In writing these stories, I thought a lot about students who say they didn’t get enough help or that no one talked to them about college. And I look back to a report by the Denver Scholarship Foundation that looked at the challenges of Hispanic males getting to and through college.

That survey showed students who never went to college weren’t getting told that college was an option or advice on how to get there. And the survey also pointed to cost as a barrier.

I believe those patterns can change. We hope that those of you who work with young people in high school or even middle school can use these resources to tell students that college is within reach.

Here are a couple more tips that I wasn’t able to use in my most recent stories — and one I wanted to re-up.

Create a schoolwide celebration to get students excited about college

Diana Madriz, assistant director of college access at Denver Scholarship Foundation, said creating excitement is a great way to get students interested in the application process for FAFSA, which can open up financial aid for low- and middle-income students.

She said educators should get students excited about every college option, including apprenticeship programs, trade schools, and community colleges. Students should know they have options that fit their interests, she said.

“I think it’s really, really important to the development of the college-going culture at every school to be as excited about every possible option,” Madriz said.

Pell Grants can help pay most, if not all, of community college tuition

Community college in Colorado costs about $3,800 a year for in-state students. That might seem like a lot to a low-income student, but federal money can help cover all or most of the cost.

Colorado Department of Higher Education Executive Director Angie Paccione wants to remind educators to point that out. Pell Grants cover up to about $7,000 a year, so that can also cover the cost of books or other college materials. She said that’s a pot of gold for some students for just filling out the FAFSA.

“Students just need to go find out how much of that pot they can get,” she said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I know. I included this in my stories.

But in every interview I had about this subject, the same advice kept popping up in conversations: There’s someone willing to help with the college-going process or how to troubleshoot it whether you’re a student, teacher, or counselor.

For students, most adults in a school building will pitch in to help navigate the college-going process. And for teachers and counselors who might not have all the answers, college admissions officers and counselors are willing to help.

Thank you for reading. And stay in touch.

Reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at

Higher education reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado in partnership with Open Campus.