ESL and the College Admissions Process

Every year, millions of teens begin the college application process. They meticulously fill out applications, craft thoughtful essays, try one last time to improve their ACT/SAT scores, and hope they get into the school (or schools) of their choice. This is a stressful process for the average student, but it can become even more stressful for students for whom English is their second language, especially if they hope to attend an American college or other English-speaking school.

Practice Filling Out College Applications

You can help ESL students apply for college by practicing filling out college applications. Many colleges in the United States now use the Common App or online application systems, but you may still be able to find a downoadable paper application online or create your own by reviewing the questions you see on a specific school's application.

Craft a Stellar Essay

Sometimes the college essay can make the difference between being admitted or being rejected. Help your students craft stellar college application essays by encouraging them to choose topics that show their unique personality and character. Ask students to tell a story in their essay rather than just sharing generic information about themselves and try to include their unique voice. This may be particularly hard for language learners because their struggles with English may make it difficult for them to find their own voice, but you can give them some suggestions to help capture the feelings they want to convey.  If they really struggle, consider having students dictate an essay to you in their native language, and then work with them to translate it.

Get Organized

The college application process is full of deadlines. Help students create a calendar to stay on top of application deadlines, scholarship deadlines, financial aid deadlines, and other key parts of the admissions process. If they miss a deadline, it could set them back in the process.

Take College Placement Exams

Many colleges require ESL students to submit TOEFL scores or take other English language placement exams. Sometimes they only get one shot on these tests, so find out what the requirements are for the colleges they hope to attend and practice answering questions similar to those that will be on the test. Simply being familiar with a test can have a major impact on a student's score.

Look for Scholarships

Scholarships can help make college affordable for ESL students. Help students find scholarships related to their interests, nationality, and other key factors. There are even scholarships available for bilingual students.

Provide Plenty of Support

The ESL students you work with may be the first in their families to go to college. Their parents may not be familiar with the college application process or supportive of their child's decision to attend college. You can be the support that they need. Let them know that you're rooting for them. Push them to apply to multiple schools to increase their chances of getting in. Give them resources they need to succeed. Mostly let them know that if they put in the effort, they'll eventually get in.

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