Caminos Your Journey To College

Hispanic Community November 2021 PREMIUM
Written by Jacqueline López

Navigating the college application process can often seem daunting, especially for students who may be the first in their families to attend college. With the added layer of many Latinx students being the first in their families to grow up in the United States, this makes the college application process not only daunting, but also completely new to many students. As  North Carolina’s Hispanic/Latinx population continues to grow each year and with the commitment to diversity and access in mind, North Carolina State University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Office of Multicultural Student Affairs saw the opportunity to support these students. This led to the creation of the program CAMINOS: Your Journey to College in 2018 through the efforts of Melissa Betancur, Marcela Torres-Cervantes, and Kayli Watkins, who desired to create a sister program to the already-established Native Education Forum and Emerging Scholars Academy.

How to prepare for College

Offered to rising juniors and seniors in high school, CAMINOS is a pre-college summer program designed to guide students through the college application and financial aid process, engage in topics related to the Latinx/Hispanic community, and learn about university student life. While the specific components of the program have shifted due to the change from in-person to virtual format, there are key themes that have remained the same: preparing for college and finding community.

The first four-day residential program was launched in the summer of 2019: 30 students from all over North Carolina were selected from 99 applicants to participate in the inaugural cohort. As students and families arrived on campus on that first Thursday morning of the program, they were greeted with a bilingual Welcome Session for parents and families. While this session was an aspect unique to CAMINOS, it tied in one of the most important aspects of the Latinx culture: family. Including parents, guardians, and family members in the college preparation process is key, as students often do not make their college decisions on their own. Understanding that piece of culture is a key component to a successful program for Latinx students and has been something carried over to virtual programming as well.

Throughout the program, students participated in sessions from NC State’s Undergraduate Admissions staff and community partners to focus on essay writing, what to do in high school to prepare for college, and navigating the college search process. Students are guided through the factors that make a competitive college applicant, such as challenging themselves academically and being involved in their school or community. Additionally, students were tasked to consider financial factors by learning how to apply for scholarships and financial aid. As a result, Spanish-language financial aid sessions are hosted once a semester for students and families to learn more about the process. These factors made the Roadmap to College project that students worked on throughout their time in the program.

In addition to college preparation, community building is a large factor within the program to show participants that they are not alone in the process, and finding community on a college campus is an important part of their experience. Students would participate in team-building activities in their small groups and as a full cohort and engaged in workshops pertaining to the history of Latinos in higher education. With the combination of activities and workshops, students would not only come out of the program with a strong network of peers, but they would also see the impacts made by those who came before them. Through  these activities, students saw their own potential for impact for their future experiences.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAMINOS programming had shifted to a virtual mode for students. Despite this, application numbers continue to increase each year due not only to  interest in the program, but to the need for support for North Carolina Latinx students. Virtual programming has combined general college preparation workshops with cultural and community-based workshops, carried out with NC State University alumni, staff and community partners.

Latinx student engagement and interest in higher education have increased after participating in CAMINOS programming. Students recognize Admissions staff that have worked with the program and continue to participate in post-program workshops. Program alumni now find themselves largely enrolled at NC State University. Still other institutions students have attended include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, John Hopkins University, and many others. No matter which college  the students attend, the goal of CAMINOS is for them to leave the program with a greater understanding of how to get there and what their potential can be while they are there.

“Going into this, I never thought CAMINOS would impact me as much as it did, I was honestly just expecting it to be another summer camp my mom actually let me go to,” Daniela, a 2019 program participant, said. “Thanks to CAMINOS, I can go back to my school with the support I so desperately craved in the back of my mind at all times.”

The biggest tips for students who are considering higher education are to know that they have resources to help them get to where they want to be, and to know that they are never alone in this process. Students are encouraged to start their process early; even just deciding that college is the path they would like to pursue is a major step in itself. We hope to see more college-bound Latinx North Carolinians in the future!

Author Bio: Jacqueline López is an Assistant Director in NC State University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. In her role, she focuses on first-year student recruitment and serves as a program coordinator for CAMINOS. A first-generation college student herself, Jacqueline is a proud Mexican-American and is passionate about helping her community thrive.

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