Nonprofit Helps Latinos Get into Top Universities

The group of Latino U College Access scholars, with other figures from Westchester County. (Photo via Westchester Hispano)

To many Westchester Hispanic students in their junior and senior year of high school who will be the first in their families to go to university, the college application process can be overwhelming and intimidating, particularly if their parents do not speak English or understand the higher education system very well. Across the country, large numbers of academically gifted students from low-income families are excluded from this process or are unprepared to enter college where they could reach their potential, often due to financial need. Many of them are unaware of existing opportunities or how to have access to them.

Seeking to bridge this gap, Latino U College Access is dedicated to helping academically gifted, low-income Hispanic students to obtain grants to attend some of the best universities in the country, including Harvard, Princeton and Columbia.

For the last five years, Latino U College Access has been working with local school districts to ensure that students will be able to make their dream of going to college come true. During this time, the White Plains-based organization has helped 100 students submit their applications successfully and enroll in college.

“I was not familiar with the whole application process and needed help,” said Darwin Arias, a senior at Ossining High School. His father works in construction and his mother in the dry cleaning industry. The Ossining native has always been a dedicated student, and excelled in science and math. He knew that going to college would be the most important thing he could achieve for his family.

“No one in my family could guide me,” he said. “My parents did not understand why I studied so hard, although my father always taught me the value of hard work.” Thanks to Latino U, this fall he will start studying at Columbia on a full four-year scholarship.

Sabrina Morales and Andrés Castillo, two of the scholars who got into Ivy League schools. (Photo via Westchester Hispano)

Sabrina Morales, another Latina scholar and a senior at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, has won a nearly full scholarship to Harvard University. “Without Latino U and my volunteer college coaches, I would have never had the courage to apply to Ivy League schools,” she said.

Morales is the first Latino U scholar to have been accepted into Harvard. She plans to go to medical school and specialize in juvenile diabetes, a disease her youngest brother suffers.

On June 5, Andrés Castillo-Quintana, one of the first students in Westchester to go through the Latino U scholars program, will graduate with honors from Princeton University. Four years ago, during his senior year in Fox Lane High School, he worked alongside his Latino U volunteer college coach to apply to 20 colleges, all Ivy League schools included. Columbia and Princeton offered him full scholarships.

“My parents were never able to help me with homework,” said Castillo Quintana. “I had to do it all by myself. When I started thinking about going to college, it felt as if I was climbing a mountain,” he said.

Latino U College Access has been extremely successful: 98 percent of its scholars are on track to graduate, 93 percent are enrolled in four-year universities, 62 are in private four-year colleges, 44 percent attend institutions considered “most selective” to “very selective,” and 58 percent are pursuing a degree in STEM fields.

“I would like everyone to be able to see the impact of our work,” said Shirley Acevedo-Buontempo, founder and executive director of Latino U College Access. “Our work is transformative, not just for the students but also for their families and for future generations.”

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