Experts agree that early childhood education helps children prepare for school and that preparedness is key for educational success. Parents can look for teaching moments that encourage learning every day, such as reading together or visiting a children’s museum. Parents who are committed to their child’s educational success provide a significant support system that will carry a student through his or her educational experience.


“It’s important for parents to be involved early on,” advises Jeanette Morales, Assistant Director for K-12 Initiatives at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).


HACU  is the only national educational association that represents Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). Established in 1986 with a founding membership of eighteen institutions, today it represents more than 400 colleges and universities committed to Hispanic higher education success in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain and Portugal.  Although its member institutions in the U. S. represent less than 10% of all higher education institutions nationwide, together they are home to more than two-thirds of all Hispanic college students.


“Many Latino parents assume that counselors and teachers will oversee their child’s education but parents must work with teachers and counselors, so that their child will move ahead. They must stay involved and if their child does not excel in school, they need to find out why and get help,” says Morales.


Since college preparedness begins with academics, children should be encouraged to study at home. In lieu of a bedroom, children can study at a dining room or kitchen table, so long as it’s a quite place to spread out their schoolwork. Learning can be fun in the right environment.


Starting Early


As early as the first grade, parents can monitor a child’s success with different subjects to help them gauge what area of study their child might pursue. According to the National Science Initiative (NCI), “More than 60 percent of youngsters say they are interested in math and science before third grade, but that interest drops off as they enter middle school and even more in high school. It’s vitally important for your child’s future to keep the spirit of discovery growing about math and science as your child grows.”


Nearly half of all new jobs during the next decade will be in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Just to meet current demand, the U.S. needs to graduate 100,000 more engineers a year! Therefore, getting your children interested in math is more than good advice—it’s an investment in their future as well as that of all Americans.


Fifth grade is critical, according to the NCI. This is the bridge year before junior high, where college track courses will begin to factor in more significantly in your child’s academic resume. It’s important for parents to be involved with teachers and school principals.  Find out what courses your child is taking. If she’s not taking college track courses, she should be!


At the beginning of high school is the time for parents to begin the college discussion more candidly. An academic resume is akin to a brag sheet. Beginning in their freshman year, students should keep track of any honors, extracurricular activities, volunteer work or paid employment, even perfect attendance, so that when senior year arrives, they’ll have a record to refer to when completing a college admissions application.


College track students must not only excel at the most challenging classes offered in high school, they should take advance placement classes that actually give them college credit before entering a university. That puts them ahead of the game.


Activities outside of school will also enhance a student’s college application. Morales recommends volunteering, especially in a prospective field of endeavor. “Remember to get letters of recommendation from employers as well,” she adds. Many teachers and counselors can get overwhelmed by requests for these letters, and while the first 100 they write may be descriptive, the last 100 will tend to get a little dry, so it’s good to have a variety of sources.


A former high school counselor, Morales warns parents and students against waiting too long to prepare, particularly for pre-college testing and college entrance exams.  The PSAT can be taken as early as sophomore year but parents need to be pro-active. It’s free but they should talk to counselors to make sure their child will be invited to take the test. A practice test for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams, the PSAT can provide valuable testing practice as well as an overview of your child’s aptitude in language arts and math to help focus studying for the SAT or ACT. Students can opt to take the SAT or ACT in their junior year, leaving senior year open to retake the test to improve the score.


Applying for College


College admissions administrators receive thousands of applications each year. They concentrate on three basic elements of each application: academic performance, letters of recommendation, and an admissions essay from the student. “The essay portion helps reviewers get to know a little more about student, what they think, where they’re coming from, what sets them apart. This is a chance to express why he or she would like to attend college,” says Morales.


The writing component may intimidate some students so Morales encourages them to keep any papers or essays that they scored highly on in high school and use them as models for constructing the admissions essay.  Writers take years to complete a novel, so leave plenty of time to write the essay. Revise, revise, revise! Show the draft to friends, teachers and school counselors. Above all, be sure there are no mistakes in grammar or spelling.


Parents and students will need to complete applications for each school usually no later than January or February of senior year. Applications can be requested from each school, and you’ll find a selection of leading colleges  for Latinos in Chapter Five of this guide and in We’ve included the address, telephone, and website of each college, so contact them directly. Since each application usually requires a fee, selecting the most appropriate colleges matters, as we discuss in the next chapter.