Latinos and Higher Education
Parents, Latinx, and applying to college: personal experiences and tips By: Estrella Ramirez – Robles, LMFT
October, the month where Cal State applications are due, UC applications are due, financial aid applications are expected, and all the stresses that come with the thought of college begin to boil up. Students and parents feel lost in the process, and some leave it up to chance, hoping that they filled out applications correctly, submitted everything needed, and cross their fingers that they are accepted somewhere. In thinking about this, I look back to my own experiences when I was 18 applying to college. I think about how unprepared I was as a senior in high school and how little I knew about the things I was supposed to prepare for. Things like having a specific Grade Point Average (GPA) to increase my chances of being admitted to a four-year university or applying for financial aid and needing my parents’ taxes but not knowing if they did taxes because of their immigration status. I remember finding out about college applications being due as my friends, who were more academically focused, informed me about the Cal State and UC applications being available. They guided me through the process because the school’s college counselor only concentrated on those students with a 3.5 GPA or above (I had a 3.2 might I add). Once I became more informed by my merit, I had to make sure my school counselor and college counselor knew who I was and had to make sure to ask the questions needed to guide me through this process. If it were not for my friends, who were talked about the importance of school by their older siblings in higher education, I would not have known what I needed to do.
As I reflect on my experience, I think about other students in the Latinx community and their difficulties during this process of applying to colleges. In the article In Pursuit of the American Dream: Latino Students Face Troubling Barriers to College Success by Alia Wong (2020), Wong describes those difficulties Latino Students face, specifically first generations students, when entering the higher education world. Complications such as: attending for-profit schools rather than nonprofit institutions, engaging in taking out loans at a higher rate compared to their white or black counterparts, factoring in their families’ financial circumstances into their college decisions, language barriers, and other obstacles make it difficult for their parents to understand their financial aid options, finally the lack of support in the employment sector after receiving a degree, leading to unemployment or not working in the field of study. What has been drawn by these difficulties is the understanding that Latinos face an array of obstacles when entering the higher education world, challenges that have occurred from years ago to now.
So what can be done to support Latinx students during this new stage in their lives? The following tips can help the adults in the student’s life better support and guide them through applying to college. However, keep in mind that these tips can apply to most students and adults, not just those in the Latinx community. The six suggestions are:
- PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE: Help your teen practice being independent in high school. Urge them to make their own decisions regarding classes, money, clothing, friends, and lifestyle. Then let them realize the consequences of their decisions. This is difficult to do; no one wants a teenager to experience discomfort, pain, or failure. College, however, is full of decisions, and it is better for young people to practice making them while still in high school.
- CONNECT WITH GUIDANCE COUNSELORS: Make an appointment to meet with your child and his or her secondary-school counselor. These professionals know colleges, and if they have the time (despite full portfolios), they also know your child. Their counsel can be invaluable!
- GET ORGANIZED: The college process includes tracking many dates, from registering for exams to scholarship deadlines. Is your child good at keeping track of deadlines? If so, you can take a hands-off approach. If, however, your child has a hard time managing multiple deadlines, you can assist by asking if he or she would appreciate assistance in the form of organizing materials or creating a chart.
- MAKE IT THEIR CAMPUS VISIT: When visiting colleges, try to tour the campus separately from your son or daughter. Allow your teen to assess the college independently without managing your responses. Make sure it’s your teen’s visit, not just yours.
- TALK TO YOUR TEEN ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN COLLEGE: Remember that the college-choice pressure weighs upon students, and it’s helpful if you can direct their attention to something other than college. Have them make their senior year an experience unto itself, not simply a precursor to college.
- FINALLY, ENJOY THE PROCESS: This is a new process for both your teen and you, so try to make the best of it. Acknowledge that this is a very stressful time in your teen’s life, and they will not always know what they want or where they want to go, and that is okay. Try to let go of the idea of “they have to know what they want to study” and think of this process as helping them discover what they want to study or be. Remember, at 18, you did not know all the answers, so neither did they. Allow that flexibility for them still not know and allow yourself to guide them and not just tell them.
Wong, A. (2020, September 2). In Pursuit of the American Dream: Latino Students Face Troubling Barriers to College Success. Arnold Foundation. https://www.arnoldventures.org/stories/in-pursuit-of-the-american-dream-latino-students-face-troubling-barriers-to-college-success/