The story of Luis Alberto Juarez, a student at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is nothing short of remarkable. Just 10 years ago, Juarez did not speak English. His mother, Agustina Juarez, fondly remembers his middle school teacher, Ms. Martinez, who recognized his potential and encouraged him to learn and thrive. He did so well in middle school that he earned a slot at a private college-preparatory high school. In spite of not having the school counselor’s support, thanks to his determination, Juarez managed to apply to 10 colleges and was accepted to nine of them, including MIT.
For Andrea Beleno-Harrington, a Harvard graduate who works as a lawyer for an Austin-based nonprofit, education is an eye-opening experience. The value, she says, lies in the opportunity to learn from the most brilliant minds in your chosen field and meet luminaries who visit campus—she even met the Dalai Lama. The key to entering a college like Harvard, according to Beleno-Harrington, is to take an interest in your own life and future, and to work hard to achieve your goals. For her, education should not be the goal per se; the goal is to cultivate the intellectual curiosity that can only be satiated by going to college.
The stories of Beleno-Harrington and Juarez have some common denominators. Both have a curiosity for life and knew they had to follow their aspirations. Because they did so well in middle school, they earned scholarships to attend private college-preparatory high schools. They also said that their mothers fostered in them the appreciation for education. All things combined, they developed the skills and values necessary not only to be college-ready, but success-ready.
Read Related: Top 10 Reasons Why Latinos Need to Go to College
Latinos as a group still have the highest dropout rate in the nation, at 15%. Considering that by 2050, Latinos are expected to be the majority ethnic group in the U.S., the inevitable questions are how educated that majority will be and what type of economic power they are going to have. For young adults ages 25-34 who work full time, higher education attainment is associated with higher median earnings. According to the US Department of Education, median income for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $45,000, while the median income for young adults with only a high school education is $21,000.
Yet, education is not only about good jobs and higher wages. Having a higher education degree is associated with positive health outcomes such as life expectancy and it is also associated with self-worth. Your children’s education can even determine your grandchildren’s future income—as the best indicator of future earnings is the income of parents. While we may argue social determinism, the reality is that society works under certain rules. One of those rules is determined by the opportunities that our parents gave us; good education or wealth.
The path to college starts at home, asserts Beleno-Harrington. Make sure your children know that you expect them to go to college, and provide enrichment opportunities for them to learn more and be better. Juarez’s advice is for students: do not let people get you down! Keep in mind that the path to college comes from working hard and starting at an early age. College is not impossible for anyone, he says.
The Gates Foundation College Ready Education Plan states that high school students who develop “habits of mind” improve academic performance and are better prepared to go to college. Habits of mind refer to habits such as willingness to put in effort and discipline to achieve a long term goal, the ability to study independently, sustain concentration on a task, use evidence to defend a point of view, and self-correct in response to feedback.