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Reimagining the Road to Graduation

The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College

Who assists students on their journey to and through college and career, and how can they work together to build better systems of support?


Counselors & College Access Organizations   /   K-12 Staff   /   Higher Education Staff   /   Families   /   Peers   /   Employers & Community-based Organizations   /   Policymakers   /   Funders & Intermediaries




Through their actions, mindsets, and beliefs, families cultivate students’ postsecondary aspirations and goals. But due to rising college costs and the COVID-19 pandemic, many families increasingly rely on students for financial help and support with younger siblings, which puts pressure on young people pursuing or considering college. It can feel impossible to prioritize long-term needs when attending to the immediate and urgent.

“We talk about the mistakes we made because we weren't knowledgeable enough when our daughter applied to college as a first-generation student. Now with our son, we envision the best and remain grounded. If Plan A doesn't work, I want to have Plan B.” —Parent, Bay Area

Common Pitfalls That Families Face
  • Lack of a college reference point: Many caregivers did not attend college themselves and do not have firsthand experience with college applications and college transitions.
  • Community expectations or experiences that influence individual choices — for example, around taking on debt or giving young women the same latitude as young men.
  • Immigration status: Lack of U.S. citizenship (for students and/or caregivers) creates legal barriers to receiving financial aid and can cause hesitation and anxiety around accessing government systems and structures. 
Mindset Shifts to Help Families Better Target Their Support
  • Provide a bedrock of emotional support to students.
  • Provide college “know-how” to siblings, cousins, and extended family, especially those who are first-generation college-goers. 
  • Support students financially when possible, including making short-term trade-offs to enable longer-term trajectory.
Opportunities to Build a More Coherent System in Concert with Other Adults
  • Elevate student and family stories, including immediate pressures and challenges, to leaders in schools, higher education, and community organizations so leaders can make better and more informed decisions.
  • Advocate to policymakers for solutions that will support students and families.
Further Reading
  • View student stories where families played a supportive role: Anna, Mel 
  • View a complete list of concrete recommendations for families here.  
Meet the Supporters
Who supports students on their journey to and through college and career? What mindset shifts can these supporters make to better coordinate high school, postsecondary, and workforce systems?