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What do you want to be when you grow up? Many children may reply with a definitive answer—celebrity, fireman, or veterinarian being some of the most popular—but the possibilities seem open and endless. As we grow older, we may find it more difficult to decide. Parents need to pay close attention to a child’s early goals, while understanding that they can change in the blink of an eye.

 

As a child progresses through school, her natural aptitudes will emerge. Does little Juanita excel in math and science, or music, or art? These will be indicators of what direction or preference your child may develop regarding a future career.

 

Parents may also feel compelled to encourage their child to opt for a field that promises a good paycheck but they should also respect their child’s choice. Despite their good intentions, parents need to understand that the choice is ultimately up to the student to make because his or her success will depend on a passion for and satisfaction with his or her chosen profession.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, some parents may not appreciate the value and dividends that higher education provides. “One of the most common mistakes of parents who may be the first to send children to college is to assume that a college education isn’t necessary for a good paying job,” offers HACU’s Jeanette Morales. “Even technical trade jobs like electricians, plumbers, or home health providers will require some college hours to earn a license, credential, or certificate.”

 

Making Choices

 

Certain schools will have a reputation for excellence in certain areas of study. While this is an important consideration, it should not be the ultimate factor. Other aspects, like location and school size, should be considered. Not all colleges are the same, and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, the best college may not be the best college for you.

 

Location may be the most difficult for Latino parents since it forces them to confront the unappealing prospect of their child leaving home for the first time. The choice to move, however, should be based on a college’s degree program and its ability to best serve a student’s area of study, and not because of a perception that out-of-state or Ivy League schools may be more prestigious.

 

Leaving home can also be traumatic for the student, ultimately affecting his or her success so a parent’s understanding of their child’s temperament and confidence level is important. A school’s size will also play into this equation. Smaller, more private schools may be more suitable for certain students. Larger, state colleges and universities may leave a student lost in the crowd. At the same time, these schools will have more support programs but it will be up to the student to seek them out.

 

Students from towns with a large Latino population can experience culture shock when attending a school far from home. This may lead to poor academic performance and finally, having to return home. For this reason, HACU has identified schools with a student population comprised of at least 25 percent Latino students and identifies them as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). These schools also receive federal dollars for campus support programs geared toward keeping Latino students in school and ultimately graduating. HACU associate and partner members, who aspire to become HSIs, will also work to get Latino students money and admitted. For a list of these colleges, go to www.hacu.org.

 

Take the College Tour

 

Once your child has developed a short list of schools, it’s time to pack for the college tour.

 

“Always be involved with your child’s college search and that includes visiting college campuses,” advises Morales. “It’s important for parents to see where their child may be going to school and get a feel for the campus. Parents also offer a needed perspective for students. They can ask questions that students may not consider, like where to get laundry done, or is the cafeteria open on weekends? It’s always good to have a parent’s perspective.”

 

Many colleges encourage prospective applicants to spend the night in a dormitory with other students and even attend a day of classes. This is an invaluable experience and the best way to “get the feel” of a college. Meeting students will give you an idea of who your roomates and classmates will be. Visiting classes will introduce you to professors and give you a sense of the academic demands placed on college students. these visits can be arranged through college admissions offices. Visit CollegeforLatinos.com for blogs from Latino college students happy to share their experiences.

 

Finally, don’t be put off by the cost of tuition. That should never be a reason not to apply. Many schools, from private to public, offer financial aid programs and even the most expensive schools have endowments to assist with expenses, as you’ll see in the next chapter.