Among the First

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I’m always looking for ways to help my family, especially when it comes to education. More than anything I share my experiences, in the hope that they are useful in navigating the educational system in the US. Being an immigrant family, sometimes you are unfamiliar with customs and expectations.

My university education has helped me tremendously, not only in my professional career but in my emotional life and even my health. It helped me get to know myself better and no one can take my degree away.

If you are supporting a high school student or are one yourself, now is the time to start preparing to apply to college. Besides the support at school, check out the organization I’m First (imfirst.org) for information on how to apply and even get connected to an online mentor.

It’s important to practice taking the SAT or the ACT. Many public libraries offer free classes on preparing for these tests. Get familiar with the test format and focus on improving your vocabulary and your reading speed. There are tests and courses online for both of these things. You need to understand the words in the test and finish reading all the instructions to get a good score.

You want to show in the college application that the student is also involved in extracurricular activities. Perhaps they should play a sport or volunteer with a service club. They might also need a letter of recommendation from a teacher. To help with that, they should first make a list of their accomplishments and share it with their teacher. You can find examples of this list online by searching for “brag sheet.”

A counselor should help you all with picking which schools to apply to, but the student should start the research process on webpages like Cappex, Chegg or College Board’s Big Future. You might qualify for a voucher that allows you to apply to various schools for free. Make sure the student applies to various schools, some easier and some harder to be accepted into. Consider private colleges that might be able to offer you more money in scholarships. The organization MALDEF compiles a directory of scholarships for Latinos, including some for undocumented individuals.

The need for support, especially emotional,  does not stop when the young person makes it onto the college campus. Many times they feel guilty or feel they have abandoned the family. Other times they don’t feel comfortable or feel like they are impostors. Like any new environment, it takes time to make new friends and find community. If they are among the first in their families to go to college they should seek resources for “first generation” students.

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