Overcoming Barriers to College Attendance in 2021

College application season has officially kicked into high gear and many students are sending off applications and already receiving decision letters. However, the application and university selection processes are not the same for everyone, with barriers arising for people of different backgrounds. In this article, we will examine the obstacles impeding students from potential college attendance/success, while further investigating how to overcome these obstacles. 

College Attendance Barriers

It is no secret that opportunities for college attendance vary for every student. This variability can be attributed to differences in educational, cultural, and economic backgrounds. 

A student’s demographic, in this case referring to their family and living situations, is a significant indicator of college attendance and persistence. The United States Department of Education conducted a large scale analysis of how demographic variables affect bachelor’s degree attainment. This analysis was conducted using database information from over 12,000 students, identifying four independent variables that had a significant effect on college degree achievement. These effects included race/ethnicity, gender, family income, and first generation status.

LIFE Intelligence: Invest in Yourself

The most significant factor correlated with lack of college degree attainment was being a first generation college student. The probability of completing a college degree was significantly reduced by about 21%, meaning students whose parents had never pursued a degree were found to either not attend college or drop out of college. Additionally, students with minority status also saw a reduction of bachelor’s degree attainment by 17%.

Gary R. Pike and colleagues acquired data from 4,066 students intending to pursue a degree at a four year university. This was done using surveys, class data, and other measures. They found numerous positive and negative correlations to degree attainment, the most notable being expected work hours and high school rigor.

The authors found that the more hours a student expected to work outside of school, the less likely they were to obtain a degree. This finding was consistent with Alberto F. Cabrera et al.’s data, showing that concerns about the capability to finance a college education was negatively correlated to degree completion. High school academic intensity and performance were found to have a positive correlation with college completion. This data shows that enrolling in rigorous courses and performing well prior to college may directly affect the pursuit of a degree. This can potentially be attributed to the level of college coursework preparation one receives prior to enrolling in a university. 

LIFE Intelligence: Start with You

The findings stated above highlight the disparity between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Economic status plays a significant role when pursuing a college degree, with not only money being a factor, but the stress behind financing a college education playing a role in whether or not one attends a four year university. Furthermore, people of different culture’s may not have access to the same resources. First generation college students and students originating from minority families may not have the same knowledge of college in the U.S. compared to others. Understanding the processes and steps necessary to apply and attend a post secondary school is necessary to succeed in college. Therefore, it is clear that not all students have the luxury of furthering their education due to their environment and upbringing. 

Although this may be the case, there are still steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood of college attendance and graduation. 

Overcoming Economic Barriers to College Attendance

There are a number of steps one can take prior to and when applying to college to promote the likelihood of attendance. 

First and foremost, scholarships. About $46 billion is awarded each year in the form of grants and scholarships. These awards are given out by both the US Department of Education and Universities, not taking into account the significant number of scholarships awarded by private sources. Taking the findings stated regarding the worries of obtaining sufficient funds for a college education, scholarships are a noteworthy way of combating this problem. There are scholarships that range in value and requirements, with a scholarship for almost anything can be found nowadays. There is even a scholarship awarded to students who are above or below a certain height. Through effort, time allotment and a search engine, the worry of college costs can be significantly reduced.

LIFE Intelligence: Self Discovery

Overcoming Social Barriers to College Attendance

The people one surrounds themselves with can also affect the likelihood of attending college.

Steven Elías Alvarado and Ruth N. López Turley investigated the effects of surrounding oneself with college oriented friends. They found that the likelihood of applying to 4 year institutions was increased by those in largely college oriented friend groups. The influence that friends had on an individual's aspirations towards college attendance was found to be significant, especially when the amount of college oriented friends found in a friend group increases. Ultimately, the friends one surrounds themself with prior to college can significantly impact their future. 

In addition, obtaining information about college and finding access to counselors can immensely influence a student’s path towards or away from higher education. Cheryl Moore-Thomas et al. analyzed the educational longitudinal study of 2002, which tracked a nationally representative sample of students throughout high school. By analyzing this data set, they found that both the number of counselors in a school, along with the number of times a student had contact with a counselor, was positively correlated with college application rates. This was especially true for students who came in contact with counselors sooner than later. Additionally, Andrew Belasco conducted a similar data analysis and found that student-counselor contact not only increased the likelihood of students applying to colleges, but also increased the likelihood of postsecondary enrollment. 

LIFE Intelligence: Personal Development

These findings indicate that by surrounding yourself with the right people and seeking out helpful resources, the barriers that you have no control over can be dealt with. The quality of resources available must also be taken into account when making this assumption, but through networking and research, helpful assets can be found. In sum, preparing for college is a difficult process, but can be done through the right amount of time and effort. Navigating the stress of college life is another task, and this can be done using the LIFE Intelligence app.

How LIFE Intelligence can help prepare students for academic achievement

Obtaining an acceptance letter is only the first step on your journey through college. Attending a university signifies a new and unique period of your life, accompanied by changes in lifestyle and mental states. This can be a scary process, but you don’t have to go through it alone. 

The LIFE Intelligence app exists to help you navigate through these new and difficult times of your life. In Listen up! How Music can Promote Relaxation and Relieve Stress, we saw that chronic stress is extremely detrimental to one’s health, and can lead to cognitive deficits and mental illnesses such as depression. According to Henry Xiao et al., college students between 2010 and 2015 have shown a steady increase in mental health related problems, describing this trend as a “crisis”. Luckily, through the missions available on the LIFE Intelligence app, college students can manage the stress found in their everyday lives, while also improving their work productivity. 

LIFE Intelligence: Understand You

For example, mission 1.4 informs us of the steps that can be taken to escape mental ruts. This mission informs us of the science behind learned helplessness, referring to when an individual convinces themselves that they cannot escape current or eventual suffering. This learned helplessness can arise in one’s cognitive, motivational, or emotional processes. However, LIFE Intelligence teaches us that through the avoidance of the 3 P’s (negative statements that imply permanent, pervasive, or personal deficits), learned helplessness can be put to rest. 

Mission 6.3 informs us of the importance of social support, especially during times of severe stress. Different forms of stress, such as environmental and generational, are outlined in order to call to attention how our stress can affect those around us. In addition, the app tells us that this stress can be mediated through social support, which trigger oxytocin production and increase feelings of trust and comfort. 

The transition from high school to college can be extremely nerve-racking. This change is known to bring about deterioration in mental health, especially for students with difficult and demanding schedules. Instead of jumping in blind, the LIFE Intelligence App can be a useful tool in learning how to attack these problems as soon as they arise.

The road to college is different for every potential undergraduate. People of different backgrounds face obstacles that would be entirely novel to others. However, these obstacles are not defining factors in potential college attendance and can be overcome using the resources around you.

Lucas Bezerra
December 16, 2020


Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.

Pike, G. R., Hansen, M. J., & Childress, J. E. (2014). The Influence of Students’ Pre-College Characteristics, High School Experiences, College Expectations, and Initial Enrollment Characteristics on Degree Attainment. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 16(1), 1–23. 

Cabrera, A., Nora, A., & Castañeda, M. (1992). The Role of Finances in the Persistence Process: A Structural Model. Research in Higher Education, 33(5), 571-593.

Fay, M. (2019, December 17). Scholarship & Grant Opportunities for College Students. 

Bryan, J., Moore-Thomas, C., Day-Vines, N. L., & Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2011). School Counselors as Social Capital: The Effects of High School College Counseling on College Application Rates. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(2), 190–199.

Belasco, A. S. (2013). Creating college opportunity: School counselors and their influence on postsecondary enrollment. Research in Higher Education, 54(7), 781–804.

Xiao, H., Carney, D. M., Youn, S. J., Janis, R. A., Castonguay, L. G., Hayes, J. A., & Locke, B. D. (2017). Are we in crisis? National mental health and treatment trends in college counseling centers. Psychological Services, 14(4), 407–415.

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