The National Center for Education Statistics reports that an estimated 30 percent of incoming college freshmen are the first in their families to attend a four-year institution. Yet, being a first-generation college student is one of the biggest risk factors for not completing the degree.

First generation students might not have the advantage of having parents who can answer questions about college, but there are places they can go for help. Here are a few things every first-generation college student should know to help them feel prepared for school.

Understand how to navigate financial aid

Navigating the seas of financial aid can feel overwhelming for any student, particularly those new to the college experience. Students need to understand how to look beyond the sticker price for a college or university. Identify colleges based on their fit for the programs and environment you want to experience. Between scholarships, federal student aid, and grants, many avenues exist to secure finances to attend school.

Every student begins the financial aid process by filling out the FAFSA. Qualifying students can receive aid to attend school.

Then, research potential scholarships that you may qualify for. Many schools offer scholarships for underrepresented populations, including those who are the first in their families to attend school.

There are a variety of organizations that help students new to the financial aid process navigate the complexities. Students might explore, for example, to receive guides and help geared towards those in a similar position.

Prepare thoroughly for the SATs and ACT

Over the last few decades, the SATs and ACT have evolved from tests that students simply registered for and then took into tests that students spend weeks or even months preparing for. Every student who plans on taking the exam should do at least some preparation for the test.

Book stores generally sell SAT prep books. These books help students better understand the types of questions and topics included in the exam, 

In addition to the books, a variety of free resources also exist on the computer. Khan Academy, for example, offers free SAT test prep. 

As you study for these college entrance exams, remember the importance of doing a few practice tests. These practices will make it easier to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Know the importance of reaching out to people at your college

When evaluating colleges, ask about the programs designed to help first-generation college students. These programs can help students feel more confident in themselves. The students receive answers to questions that might arise as they enroll in classes and begin to navigate the school system.

Advisors and financial aid counselors at the school can also help you understand your program, how to plan your course load, and how to apply for and maintain any scholarships you receive.

Not only should students take advantage of programs designed to help them thrive in school, but you should also get to know your professors. Learn when they have office hours and how they can be reached by email. Professors can help you review the material from class, study better, and improve your performance.

College is not about trying to do everything on your own. Building a community of trustworthy people can help ease the transition and make the first weeks and months more enjoyable. It will also improve your chances of being successful throughout your school career.

Embarking on a college degree is an ambitious goal, particularly for those coming from families that did not attend four-year institutions. If you are a first-generation college student, look carefully over these tips. Following the advice here will make your college application processes more productive and set you up for a successful college experience.