College-Career Readiness for English Language Learners

Your Children Can Go to College. Yes They Can!

A college education is more important than ever before, especially for children of immigrant families who have come to New York City to pursue a better life. We are here to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college, the modern workforce, and life in a global society. That’s why we’ve partnered with the New York Immigration Coalition and Internationals Network for Public Schools to provide you with helpful tips and resources to help your child graduate high school and enter college.

We Did it. And You Can Do It, Too!

Many immigrants go to college in New York City. What’s more, they go to good schools and they find money to help pay for it. Below are three stories about real immigrant families in New York City and how they did it.

Their stories are unique, but they all have three things in common:

  1. Get a team of people around yourself to help your family. It is not easy to get ready for college. You don’t have to do it alone. Can you think of two or three friends or family members who can help you? Your friends don’t need to know a lot about college. Their job is to listen to you, help you do small things, and be your friend so you don’t have to try to do everything alone.
  2. Visit some colleges with your child to learn about them. You can learn a lot about the American system of colleges by visiting a few colleges and asking questions. Most students who go to college visit a few colleges when they are still in high school. You can visit a college with your child to tell them: “This is where you belong.”
  3. Ask for help for your child. Everyone who goes to college gets help and advice to get there. But, you have to ask for it. Sometimes, it is not easy to ask for help when you do not speak the language. But, you have to do it. Your child’s guidance counselor is a good person to start with. They can help you navigate the college selection, application, and financial aid processes.

Isabel and Maria

My name is Isabel. In a few years, my daughter, Maria, will go to college. I have always been involved in my children’s education. That’s why we came to this country. I wanted to give them a good education. I read to them every day when they were young. I helped them with their homework. I went to meet with their teachers.

It was hard for me to guide my oldest daughter, Maria. When she was 12 or 13 years old, she started asking me many questions about her future. She wanted to know about so many different jobs. I work in a restaurant. But, she wanted to know about architecture, science, and business. I wanted my girl to dream big, but I didn’t know about these things.

Gather a Team

Soon, she began asking me about college. I thought it was too early to think about college. But, I did not tell her that. I want Maria to have her own ideas. But, I didn’t know the answers to her questions. Luckily, I have three good friends who helped us find answers. They helped us get ready for college.

My friend Carmen met with my daughter to help her think about her future. Carmen listened to Maria talk about what she liked to do and what she didn’t like to do. Carmen asked Maria about her favorite classes. And she asked her: “What kinds of things are you good at outside of school?” Maria talked about her strengths as a person. Carmen and Maria talked about jobs Maria would be happy doing. After my daughter met with Carmen, she was more confident. She had more ideas about what she wanted in a job and what she did not want.

Another friend of mine, Angela, told me I can get a free interpreter when I go to my daughter’s school. Sometimes there is nobody at the school who speaks Spanish. Angela told me that I can ask for someone to translate for me. I can get someone to help me for parent-teacher conferences or when I go talk with the guidance counselor. Every school can help immigrant parents understand what is being said in English. You just have to ask.

Learn about Colleges

Angela also showed us how to go to the library to learn about careers and colleges. The people who work at the library showed us a book about college and jobs. The book says what to study in college to get the job you want. And they had a book that listed all the colleges in New York. We read about the City University of New York. It has many colleges across the city and does not cost a lot of money.

Ask for Help

My third friend is Carlos. He works for a travel agency. He let Maria come to his job every Monday after school for a few months. Maria met all the people in his office. She learned what they do at work. She saw that some people love their job and some people do not. Maria asked Carlos a lot of questions. And she learned how to answer the telephone and greet people when they come into the office. Carlos told Maria that she can talk about this experience on her college application. I also learned that I can ask Maria’s school about internships and work-based learning to help my child get career experiences outside of the classroom. Many of the high schools also have Career and Technical Education programs that prepares students for both college and careers they are interested in like engineering, health care, architecture, and so many other career options.

My friends were a great team! They came to this country and worked hard to have a good life. They care about their community very much. They are good role models for my children. And they helped us get ready for college.

Tashi and Nyima

My name is Tashi. My daughter, Nyima, is 18 years old. She wants to go to college. When Nyima began speaking about college, I didn’t know what to think. At home, Nyima is so shy. She doesn’t speak English well. She doesn’t get good grades in high school. I didn’t think college was a good idea. I thought that college is too expensive. We don’t have money for college. When she finishes high school, she should help her family more.

Gather a Team

Nyima asked me to come to her school one day to speak to the guidance counselor. I took some time off work to go with her. The school sent someone to translate our meeting into my language so I could understand and talk in my own language.

The guidance counselor told us that college would help Nyima get a better job. She can make more money in the future. But, we need the money now. I didn’t understand how Nyima could spend two or three years at college and not help the family. The guidance counselor said she thought college would be good for Nyima. She talked about how families make a few more years of sacrifice so their children can have a better life. “It’s worth it,” she said.

But, how can I pay for college? I work hard and make enough money to feed my family. But, I don’t have the kind of money you need to pay for college. It is too expensive.

The guidance counselor told us there is money to help immigrant parents pay for college. Last year, a friend of Nyima’s school got $5,000 for college. And some other students got even more money. They got the money from the government. They only had to fill out some forms. Now they can go to college. They were all immigrants like Nyima.

I had no idea. I thought that college was very expensive. I didn’t know that you can get help paying for college. The guidance counselor said that a lot of immigrant students get help from the government. And some get even more help from the college they choose. There are also scholarships that Nyima could search for and apply to, especially if she has really good grades. The guidance counselor said she would help us search for scholarships that Nyima is eligible to apply for.

It sounded pretty good. It was better than I thought. But, then the guidance counselor gave us some bad news. She showed me a paper with a list of all the classes that Nyima has taken in high school. The guidance counselor explained that Nyima is pretty far behind in her classes. It will take her two more years to graduate.

Two more years? I was very surprised, but I didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she have enough credits? What was she doing? I know that it is not Nyima’s fault. The woman gave also gave us another option and a list of places that have General Education Development/High School Equivalency classes to show us our options. She said studying for the General Education Development/High School Equivalency is different from high school. It is like a second chance. A lot of young adults like Nyima do better in General Education Development/High School Equivalency classes. It doesn’t feel like high school. The General Education Development/High School Equivalency program is smaller and everybody knows you. And, Nyima can still go to college after she takes her General Education Development/High School Equivalency classes.

Coming to this country was hard on her. Everything is so different. Learning English is not easy. I know that it takes time. But, how can she go to school for another two years? She is 18 years old. The guidance counselor said that my daughter has the right to a free education until she is 21 years old. And when she turns 21, she can finish the school year. She said we should take advantage of this opportunity.

The guidance counselor said that immigrants who need to learn English sometimes need more time to graduate. I asked if there is extra help for Nyima to do better in her classes. The guidance counselor said there is. But, Nyima needs to work hard and study more. She should not work as many hours at her job.

OK, maybe Nyima can graduate from high school. But, she wants to go to college. How can Nyima go to college? She is having trouble in high school. Her English is not so good. The guidance counselor said that Nyima is a smart girl. She can do well in college. But, she needs more time to do all her high school classes. And she needs time to practice her English more.

Learn about Colleges

I listened to the guidance counselor. But, I wasn’t sure that college was a good idea for Nyima. That is when the guidance counselor told us to go visit a college to see what it is like. She told us the names of two colleges we could go look at. You can go see the college campus with all its buildings and classrooms. You can find out what it is like to be a student there.

The next day, I told Nyima that we should visit a college campus. Nyima used a computer at school to sign up for a free tour of one of the colleges. A few weeks later, we went to the college for our free campus tour. It was Saturday morning. The college was not very far from our home.

Ask for Help

A student from the college showed us around. He was the first person in his family to go to college. He said that his parents had no money to send him to school. But, he got a lot of help from the government. Now, his family can pay for college. He also said that he got extra help when he started college. There is a great program at the college called “College Discovery.” It helps students who don’t have a lot of money. They give you extra help with your classes. And they also give you free MetroCards and other things. I think Nyima will need that.

Nyima asked a few questions. They were good questions. I had never seen her talk in public. She spoke well. Her English wasn’t too bad. She sounded like a smart young woman. I think that college will help Nyima become more confident. She will learn a lot, but she will still be part of our family. I can see that my daughter belongs in college.


My name is Alcee. I come from Africa and I am going to college. When I was younger, my parents wanted me to go to college. But, they didn’t know about the American system. They didn’t go to college back home. And they didn’t speak English. We had no idea what to do first.

Gather a Team

When I was in Grade 11, my science teacher helped me out. I did well in his class. My dad always told me that I was good in math and science. When classes got hard, he said that I was smart enough for any class. He said that lots of girls are good at science. But, they have to believe in themselves.

Learn about Colleges

My science teacher believed in me. He told me about a program at our school that lets you take college classes while you are still in high school. It’s called College Now. You go to a college after school or on Saturday and you take a real college class. After your class, you can go to the library or hang out at the student cafeteria. She said they give you a college ID with your picture on it.

It sounded really cool to me. But, your grades have to be good. And you need good scores on the Regents. My grades are pretty good, but my test scores are not great. I didn’t think that I could get into the program. But, my teacher told me to apply. So, I did.

I got into the program. I took my first College Now class at Hunter College in Manhattan with about 20 other high school students.

I had never heard of Hunter College, but it was easy to get to by subway. I took a nutrition class. It was hard. We had to read a lot. But, I liked the teacher. She told me that I will do well in college. But, I need to take more English classes to improve my writing.

After my nutrition class, I took a computer class. I didn’t know much about computers. But, I liked the class a lot. The other students were really smart. We had fun hanging out together. And we learned a lot. Now I know how to use a few computer programs and I can make my own website.

I was lucky to be in College Now because not all high schools have it. I took two college classes for free! Those are two classes that I don’t have to take and pay for when I get to college.

I told my guidance counselor how much I liked College Now. She told me about a special class at our school to help students get ready for college called “College Club.” The College Club taught me so much! It helped me do everything you need to do to apply to college. I don’t know how anyone can get to college without a class like that one. I was lucky that my high school had that class. Some of my friends went to high schools that didn’t have a College Club. I wish they had it, too.

College Club started with the SAT exam. Our teacher explained what it is and why colleges want you to take it. I took the SAT exam once and did not do well. Our teacher showed us how to study for it. I studied a lot at home for that exam. I took the SAT a second time. I did better the second time, but not great.

Ask for Help

Then, I learned that immigrants can get money from the government to pay for college. My family needs help paying for college. We have no money. My teacher gave each of us the government form that everyone who wants help paying for college has to fill out. It is called the “FAFSA” (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You can do it online if you have a social security number. We spent a long time filling out the FAFSA in class. It was hard. I had to get some papers from my parents. And I had to wait for them to pay their taxes in January. When I finished filling out the FAFSA, we had to wait a long time to hear back.

My College Club showed us how to find good colleges. We spent a lot of time looking at colleges on the internet. We learned about community colleges that are cheaper and easier to get into than four-year colleges. They last for only two years, if you go to school full-time. We learned about the City University of New York. It has community colleges and four-year colleges all around the City. They are friendly to immigrants.

I wanted to go to Hunter College because I went there for my College Now classes. But, my teacher told me to find a few other schools that I like because I might not get into Hunter. Or I might find a school that I like better. Our class had books that listed many colleges and told us which subjects they are good at. The books also told us how much each school costs. And, they told us how hard each school would be to get into.

My high school grades were good enough for some schools I looked at. But, they were not good enough for other schools. My SAT scores were too low for some colleges I liked. But, my teacher told me that I am much more than my grades and test scores. She told me that I can talk about my strengths on the college application.

My teacher took us all on a college tour one Saturday morning. A college student showed us around. I learned a lot about the school. Some of my friends liked the school. But, I didn’t like it. I thought it was not very friendly. It was too small and nobody from my country goes there. I liked Hunter College better.

I was sure that I wanted to go to Hunter. But, I found two other schools that I liked. I decided to apply to all three colleges. I had to do three different applications online. But, the applications were pretty much the same. And my teacher showed us how to practice filling out the application on paper before doing the real thing online.

The most important part of the college application is the personal essay. You have to write it in English and you have to make it good. So, for me, it was the hardest part. We all spent a lot of time writing our essays. My teacher told me that my life story was interesting and my culture is important. I have to talk about that in my essay. I worked hard on it.

After I applied to three colleges and filled out my FAFSA, it was a long wait. But, then I got the good news. I got into Hunter. And my family got $6,000 in financial aid from the government. It’s almost enough to pay for my first year of college. I was so happy!

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