Posted on 10/06/2015 at 10:19 AM by Liz Determan

For English language learners (ELs), the challenges of going to college and finding the right opportunities can be quite overwhelming. As that may be, ESL teachers can play an important part in helping students apply to college and preparing for the application process. As the nation continues to diversify, it will be a challenge for schools to continue to assist ELs in seeking post-secondary education. Demographic research indicates, “…the Latino population, already the nation’s largest minority group, will triple in size and will account for most of the nation’s population growth from 2005-2050.  The Hispanic population will make up 29% of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14% in 2005” (Adolescent Literacy, 2014).

Given these trends, it’s not surprising that many ELs do not know where to begin the college application process and many ESL teachers are wondering how to help their students. While ESL teachers cannot do it alone, they can provide valuable support. Thus, ESL teachers’ need to consider what their role may need to be when assisting their students, especially with college forms. Most importantly:

  • ESL teachers must have high expectations.
  • Help students understand what colleges are looking for.
  • Help students differentiate between institutions.
  • Assist with student essays – topics.
  • Assist with choosing a course of study (i.e., should be identified in high school when possible).
  • Assist in choosing where to apply (i.e., 2-year, 4-year, etc.)
  • Set up meeting for FAFSA support with guidance counselor.
  • Possibility of writing letters of recommendation.
  • The key phrase is: proactive versus procrastination.

While the process of helping students, ELs, get on the path to college may be daunting, the rewards for you and the student can be invaluable. You may be able to help students in ways that neither of you had imagined. ESL teachers have a unique opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives by taking some extra time to connect them with resources that will ensure a brighter future. Every journey starts with a single step, and ESL teachers can help with that first step! Good luck!



*Reminder, Iowa Culture and Language Conference (ICLC) is in November – Corralville, IA.

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