What Is TRIO?

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Kirsten Collins, a senior academic advisor of TRIO Student Support Services, located on the U of M Twin Cities campus. TRIO (sometimes called TRIO/Upward Bound) is a federally funded program, and many colleges and universities will have TRIO offices. The Upward Bound part of the program is located in high schools. You can ask your counselor at the high school about getting into Upward Bound and see if the colleges you are considering offer TRIO.

students walking on campus

Each college will have different criteria for deciding who can get into a TRIO program: according to Kirsten, the students who are admitted to the U of M Twin Cities have high GPAs but lower ACT scores (around 20). 

Each TRIO program offers slightly different services, but many offer tutoring and “Integrated Learning Courses” which support students in learning the material in their academic courses by giving them a chance to ask questions, practice skills, and get feedback. One common feature is “intrusive advising.” While this might sound intimidating, the goal is to increase student success, retention, and graduation rates by being highly involved in the academic planning process. According to Kirsten, it is also pretty common for TRIO to “pay for events and building community and trips.” 

On Being a First-Gen College Student

Like many of you and myself, Kirsten is a first-generation college student who had to navigate her way through college, so she knows what it’s like to have many questions.

Q: What’s the most important advice that you would give to a high school student who identifies as first gen?
A: It sounds so cliché, but ask for help, and ask a lot of questions. Nobody does it alone, and I think as first-gen students and often low-income students, we have to do a lot of things on our own and this is not one of them. There are people that get paid to know stuff that you don’t have to know, so focus on your studies, but ask for help. It’s going to open up so many more opportunities (to students) that you didn’t even know existed. Don’t be stubborn. Just ask for help.

Q: What’s the most important advice you’d give them once they enter college?
A: Time management and organization skills are probably 20−50% of being a good college student; they’re huge, so don’t be afraid to figure out what works for you. Organize your calendar and your assignments, and don’t be afraid of spending extra time doing that before you get started on your homework, because you are going to need it. There are way too many things for college students to remember.
(The assignment calculator tool will come in handy when planning out big papers or projects.)

Q: Are there particular resources that you recommend to first-gen students, whether on campus or through another website or institution?
A: No, I wish there were, but students don’t really ‘know what they need to know’ because there’s so much information. I think that students should go to their college advisor first. It’s our job to know what resources are available.

Q: One of the things that I believe is foreign to first-gen students is the whole concept of studying abroad. How can a high school student start preparing for studying abroad?
A: Just knowing that it’s a possibility and then being able to plan in advance is important. When you get to college, you really want to make sure that you are working closely with your college advisor and the learning abroad  and financial aid offices to prepare for studying abroad. Here (at the U of M), interested students have to have a meeting with Financial Aid to figure out what their aid will look like, and sometimes their advisors can help with scholarships. Learning abroad advisors can refer them to scholarships.
(Passports take about two months to get, so plan in advance for that, too.)

Q: How can students connect with TRIO/Upward Bound?
A: At their high schools, they need to apply to be a part of the program. A lot of times they are recruited into the program, so a lot of it is just paying attention to when TRIO is doing recruiting, but students can also reach out to TRIO if they are first generation, on free or reduced lunch, or meet income eligibility requirements. TRIO normally aims to start students in their sophomore year of high school. They can just walk into the TRIO office when they start attending their local college.

Q: Are there other programs that you partner with or that you know about that focus on preparing first-gen high school students for college?
A: We have a lot of students that have participated in College Possible, AVID, Upward Bound, or another TRIO program called Educational Talent Search. Those are the main programs.

Q: Does TRIO work with students from freshman year to senior year and beyond?
A: Most TRIO programs do work with students for all two years or four years, depending on the institution. Our program (U of M) works with students until they are in their major and those students can still be a part of our TRIO student board and participate in events. We don’t technically provide services after they are in their major. We are just there during the first and the second year, and maybe part of their third year. 

Kirsten’s final piece of advice: “Just get involved. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Our students tend to be really satisfied with it and really love the friends that they make in the program and the support that they get.”

Read more First-Gen Voices blog posts.