TAMPA - For many high school students, the barrier to applying to college is a simple one: Money.
Add complicated paperwork to the mix, and the process can be daunting.
Sunday afternoon, college campuses across the state opened their doors to students and parents for a program to show them that you don't have to be a millionaire to go to college.
The program, dubbed College Goal Sunday, guided parents and students through the financial aid and scholarship application process, a step educators say is crucial for low-income and first-generation college students.
The lesson: There's financial help out there. You just have to apply for it.
"A lot of times, kids don't want to go to college because they don't feel they have the financial means," said Debra Alpin, a guidance counselor at Chamberlain High School who volunteered at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus Sunday.
Financial aid experts fluent in English and Spanish were on hand to help translate forms and offer advice, a big draw for many of Alpin's students.
Although the children may be fluent in English, their parents might not be. Those complicated forms and personal questions can be intimidating, even when filling them out in your native tongue.
Hugo Villota, whose daughter, Karen, 18, is a senior at Chamberlain, said after a Spanish-language information session that he was happy there was a way for his youngest daughter to attend college without breaking the bank.
"There is help out there," said Villota, a house painter who emigrated from Colombia 22 years ago.
Karen, who said she wants to study broadcast journalism, will be the first person in the family to go to college.
Organizers of the program especially wanted to target those whom they call first-generation college students. There are many scholarships and grants available in Florida for such students, they said.
On Sunday, the Villotas got one step closer to sending their daughter to college by sitting down at a computer together and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, the most important federal application to determine financial aid eligibility. When they had a question, a volunteer jumped up to answer it.
College Goal Sunday started in Indiana in 1989 and has since spread to other states. In 2006, Florida participated for the first time.
Laura Maria Perdomo, 17, of Chamberlain High School, could barely contain her excitement as she thought about attending college, either Hillsborough Community College or the University of South Florida, she said.
Most of all, she was excited that she wouldn't have to worry too much about paying for it. "We can get so much help from the government, it's not even funny," she said.
pretty cool. Sometimes it does get very complicated and u have questions you can't get solved.