Pre-College Programs

Hispanic Community November 2021 PREMIUM
Benefit Latino Students

Most high school students are overwhelmed by choosing a college. And first-generation minority students, who often have few adults to rely on for college admissions assistance, face special issues when deciding which college to attend and how to pay for it.

A series of questions loom such as: Which college fits my career goals? Do I go out of town or stay close to home? How can I finance my college education without overwhelming myself with debt that will restrict my future?  Do I opt for community college to save money, or should I start at a four-year school?

Pre-College Programs help students relieve this anxiety and enable them to make the best choice for their future. Some of these programs are local and often run by community-based organizations, and some such as TRIO and Avid are federally funded and administered by local school districts.

Because of problems with applying to college that arose due to Covid, Latino college enrollment dipped by 5.4% in the fall of 2020, according to data provided by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and reported in The Washington Post on January 21, 2021.  What’s more, 26.4 percent fewer high school graduates from schools with a high percentage of Black and Latino students went straight to college in 2020 compared with 2019.

About 40% of most Latinos start their higher education in community colleges, which are more affordable than four-year colleges and are often locally-based.

But participating in pre-college programs reaps several benefits, explains Deborah A. Santiago, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Excelencia in Education, a non-profit advocacy group, such as: 1) exposing students to college material to see if they’re prepared to start college, 2) offering tips to save money and understand financial aid and scholarships, 3) helping students explore which fields of studies are right for them.

Santiago advises that most students ask teachers whom they know best or a college advisor about which college programs shine in your local area. She said many community-based organizations offer pre-college programs such as Barrio Logan College Institute in San Diego, and The Torch program in various locations.

Moreover, many of the community-based organizations involve parents, which helps support the student’s efforts. Some programs start as early as third grade, drawing in parents and third-graders, and that can set the pace for understanding the 529 College Savings program a federal initiative, Santiago suggests.

Many high school students easily get overwhelmed by juggling getting good grades, thinking about which college to attend, and how to obtain financial aid to pay for it all.  Santiago advises that students, particularly first-generation Latinos, do the following: 1) take it one step at a time, and 2) find their advocate, either a counselor or teacher in their high school, a trusty community-based organization worker, or an uncle or aunt who graduated from college, that can help answer questions.

About financing college, Santiago notes that there’s a big difference between “the sticker price and the actual price you pay. They’re not the same, and that’s why students need to understand financial literacy and how to pay for college.”

She also urges students to investigate two websites: and (Hispanic Scholarship Fund), which help answer financial aid questions.

The most extensive federally funded pre-college program presented nationwide is TRIO, explains Jeanette R. Morales, who is the executive director for student and pre-K to 12 services at the San Antonio, Texas-based Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). TRIO is aimed at middle school and high school students and targets low-income and first-generation college students.  In fact, it covers eight different programs including Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, Talent Science, and Educational Opportunity Centers.

Districts and schools get involved with TRIO through obtaining federal grants, and students must show their tax returns, or prove they are first-generation college students, to gain acceptance.

First-generation students gain a considerable amount of information through TRIO. Though students can elicit information on college applications from their school’s guidance counselors, most advisors, particularly in urban centers, are overwhelmed, handle hundreds of students, and also handle college awareness and testing. “These programs, like TRIO, provide the support and guidelines to help students through college applications and financial applications,” Morales says.

Morales had served as an advisor for the TRIO program and vividly recalls one Latina who was valedictorian at her rural high school and was primed to attend a local community college.  She urged her to aim higher, which led to her gaining a full scholarship to a four-year college.

In TRIO, students learn an assortment of skills including how to choose the college that is best for them and a good fit for their career aspirations, how to choose a major, and how to apply for and obtain financial aid and scholarships. TRIO becomes a “personal advocate” for the students to help them surmount obstacles, answer admission questions, and understand the FAFSA Free Application for Federal Student Aid application, Morales says.

Another program like TRIO is Avid, an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination, a non-profit that is also federally funded and collaborates with educational districts. Avid’s mission is to close the opportunity gap by preparing all students for college readiness and future success.

Both TRIO and Avid concentrate on how to finance a college education, earn a scholarship, and negotiate with the financial aid office to earn the best financial package.  Morales says most parents that are college graduates can help navigate these issues, but first-generation college students are often left to their own devices and need assistance.

Regarding community college, often the first stop for higher education for Latino students, these pre-college programs assist students with taking their achievement tests in math and English. If students perform well on these tests, they won't be relegated to taking developmental courses, which cut into their time and can cost extra money.

The bottom line is these pre-college programs “help level the playing field.  They help students make better decisions,” Morales asserts.

Morales also offers these tips to students for dealing with college prep programs and counselors:

• Whenever you meet with a college counselor, be sure to take specific notes. Most times students are overwhelmed with information and forget what information was conveyed, so taking notes is critical.

• Keep an open mind when deciding which college is best for you.  Don’t merely choose a school because your best friend is going there and it’ll be easy to share a dorm suite.  Do what’s best for your future career and life. 

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