Common Obstacles Latino Students Face & How to Overcome Them

From, the online hub for Latina moms.

Latino students often face sizeable obstacles on the road to college. Some may live in poor neighborhoods, where schools lack resources and don’t offer advanced courses needed for college admission. Others may be the children of undocumented immigrants or may be undocumented themselves, limiting their opportunity for higher education. They may face financial hardship and may be forced to choose between school and work. They may struggle with cultural balancing acts, and may be pressured to stay close to home.

Yet, despite the hurdles, Latino students are making strides in closing the achievement gap in education. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study showed that the number of Latinos in college rose by 24 percent — or nearly 350,000 students — from 2009 to 2010. It marked the first time that Latino students outnumbered black students on campus.

More Latinos are also graduating from high school, with a record 73 percent completion rate in October 2010. The College Board has also reported a steady increase in the number of Latino students taking Advanced Placement courses nationwide.

So, what can Latino parents do to help their children avoid common obstacles and stay on the college track? Experts offer this advice:

Obstacle #1: Low expectations

How to overcome it: Parents need to help their child see that college is a possibility, says Maria Elena Meraz, executive director of the Los Angeles office of Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE). She urges parents to start taking their children to visit college campuses and to start considering college from an early age.

“They should be talking to them every day about the opportunities that come from college, that they are expected to go to college, so that when the children grow up, they have college in mind,” says Meraz.

Obstacle # 2: Lack of college readiness

How to overcome it: A growing number of high school students are graduating from high school without the academic skills needed to succeed in college. Only 25 percent of 2011 high school graduates met the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in math, science, English, and reading. Among Latino students, only 11 percent met all four benchmarks.

ACT offers several suggestions for ways to boost those scores and college readiness. Make sure your child is taking the right courses in high school. They should be enrolled in core curriculum classes, where they will get a firm grasp of fundamental skills, and in more demanding, Advanced Placement and advanced-level math and science courses, which will prepare them for college.

Obstacle # 3: Lack of planning

How to overcome it: Too often, notes Meraz, Latino families don’t start planning for college early enough in the student’s academic career. By the time a student is in the junior of high school, they should already have college-prep classes under their belt, have a list of community service and extracurricular activities on their resume, and have taken or be signed up to take PSAT, SAT and AP exams.

Meraz advises parents to set up an appointment with the child’s college counselor to find out if the student is on the right track. Go in armed with a list of questions about college requirements, the college admissions process, course loads and what the student can do to make up for any gaps, Meraz said.

“I tell parents: You are the best coach and counselor of son or daughter,” says Meraz.

Obstacle # 4: Financial concerns

How to overcome it: For many Latino families, the prospect of paying for college can be so daunting that it discourages students from even applying, Meraz says. What they don’t realize is that there are countless grants, scholarships, and loans available to help families shoulder the costs.

Parents often “overestimate the costs and underestimate the amount of available financial aid,” notes a report from The Education Trust, which suggests that parents should research college financial aid sources. Families should also use the FAFSA4caster to get a better idea of how much federal student aid the child may receive.

“If you are a low-income family, and your child has good grades, there are private scholarships and loans available,” says Meraz, who notes that in some states, undocumented students also qualify for some aid. “If the student has a dream, money should not be an obstacle.”

Obstacle # 5: Picking the Wrong College

How to overcome it: Many Latino students do not complete college because they choose the wrong school. They often “undermatch” themselves by choosing a less prestigious school that is closer to home or less expensive than other choices, according to Rising to the Challenge, a report from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. As a result, they are more likely to leave without earning a degree.

One way to avoid this pitfall is by doing homework before picking a college. Ask high school counselors for information about a wide range of colleges and universities. Make use of online resources, such as College Results Online, which compares college graduation rates and offers information about the school’s record for Latino students.

For more information, The Education Trust has also published several guides to help parents navigate the education maze, including Parents Deserve to Know More, a guide outlining information parents should have, and How to Help Your Child Prepare for College and Career (PDF). is an online hub for Latina moms, and features voices such as Sandra Guzman, Daisy Fuentes, and Sylvia Martinez

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