Key advice: Students and their families should schedule a ‘team’ meeting with a guidance counselor in 9th grade to find out about college and other post-high school options, about high school graduation requirements and timeframes, and to develop a ‘game plan’ to achieve their post-high school goals. Remember that a college education is possible for all students regardless of their immigration status or income.
If you ask most people why high school is important, they will usually answer that it prepares students for college (in the US, “college”
generally refers to schools offering two- or four-year degrees earned after high school, sometimes called “university” in other countries) or more generally for working and taking on the responsibilities of adulthood (Balfanz, Robert. “Can the American High School Become an Avenue of Advancement for All?” The Future of Children. Volume 19. Number 1. Spring 2009. Pp.17-36). But much more happens in high school than just college or work “prep”: students learn to socialize and interact as adults, they learn to take greater responsibility for themselves, they acquire higher analytic and math skills, they read more sophisticated and challenging books, their vocabularies grow and writing skills improve, they acquire a greater understanding of how to respect and care for their maturing bodies, they learn about diverse arts and sciences, they learn to question the world, and they continue to learn about citizenship and community involvement. For many students, it will be the last four year period in their lives that they can fully devote to learning and acquiring a formal education without the full financial and emotional demands of adulthood.
Finishing high school and continuing your education is more important than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, today’s young adults with only a high school diploma or less “are more likely to be unemployed and [spend] more time searching for a job” (Pew Research Center, February, 2014, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College”
Pew Social Trends
). Another report estimated that “the average college graduate earns over $800,000 more than the average high school graduate by retirement age” (“Is It Still Worth Going to College?” Mary C. Daily and Leila Bengali, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Newsletter, May 5, 2014, available
). Receiving a high school diploma (or its equivalent) is an important step on the journey to future success.
It is important that high school students and their families learn early on (preferably during 9th grade) what requirements they will need to graduate on time and what courses and resources are offered that can best prepare them for college or the career they would like to pursue after high school. For example, NYC public high schools generally offer two types of diplomas that signify a student has completed their high school education: a
Regents Diploma or an Advanced Regents Diploma
. “Regents” refers to statewide, standardized tests in certain subjects that determine whether students have the minimum skills necessary to pass a subject. An Advanced Regents Diploma means that the student passed more Regents exams than required for the standard diploma, and it is considered by many to better prepare students for college. Other high schools offer various technical credentials and certifications that can help a student be career-ready. Some high school programs also offer anning on attending college take a standardized test called the
in 10th grade. This test is a requirement for certain prestigious scholarship programs like the
National Merit Scholarship
and it gives students early practice and feedback for standardized tests required for college admissions like the SAT and ACT (described below).
The best way to graduate on time and be ready for life after high school is to find out about these options and prepare for them well in advance. Parents and students should be prepared to take action and do their own research on graduation and college, and they shouldn’t necessarily wait for options to be presented to them. They should consider scheduling a ‘team’ meeting with a guidance counselor in 9th grade to find out about college and all the post-high school options available to students, about graduation requirements and timeframes, and to develop a high school education ‘game plan’ to help the student meet their objectives. They should repeat this meeting yearly or as often as necessary to be fully informed and prepared.
Students in grades 9 through 12 should be enrolled in school right away. To find a high school that can accept your child, you can visit a
Family Welcome Center
in person, call 311 or the Department of Education at 718-935-3500, or use the ‘School Search’ tool at the Department of Education website:
NYC.GOV School Search
When speaking to someone either on the phone or in person, you can always ask for a translator if this would make the conversation easier. Going to a Welcome Center first is also a good idea if your child has received special educational
services previously and/or has an IEP
from outside of New York City.
At your assigned school, you need the required documentation to be enrolled:
Child’s birth certificate or passport as proof of age
Latest report card/transcript (if available)
Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or 504 Accommodation Plan (if applicable and available)
Required Proof of NYC Residence (any two of the following):
Utility bill (gas or electric) for the residence issued by National Grid (formerly Keyspan), Con Edison, or the Long Island Power Authority (for the Rockaways); must be dated within the past 60 days
Water bill for the residence; must be dated within the past 90 days
Original lease agreement, deed, or mortgage statement for the residence
Current property tax bill for the residence
Official payroll document from an employer (example: payroll receipt); must be dated within the past 60 days
Document or letter from a federal, state, or local government agency indicating the resident’s name and address (example: document from Internal Revenue Service (IRS), City Housing Authority, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS)); must be dated within the past 60 days
If you do not have the required documentation, you should still go to enroll your child. They will be admitted to school provisionally while a solution is worked out (for example, if you are neither the leaseholder nor owner of your residence, you will be asked to submit a Residency Affidavit).
Not all high schools have services designed for recently arrived
English Language Learners (ELLs)
at the high school level. If a student is a new arrival to the US, they should consider enrolling in one of New York City’s specialized “International Schools.” These are high schools specifically designed to serve students who are new to the US and meet certain language criteria. These schools not only offer instruction in academic subjects (including acquiring fluency in English), but they also support new arrivals as they learn to handle new social and cultural situations. Like other schools they offer extra-curricular activities and prepare students for opportunities after high school, including college. You can get a list of these schools at a Family Welcome Center
. Contact the schools directly for admissions information.
Remember that by law, students may not be required or asked to present documentation of immigration status nor can they be denied admission to school based on immigration status or failure to present documentation about immigration status. Also, references to the immigration status of a child or parent cannot appear on any school forms or records.
have their own admissions processes. You need to contact these schools directly for more information about how to apply. For more information on charter schools,
If a young adult is not enrolled in school but is 21 years old or younger, lives in NYC and needs help reentering high school, they can also go to a Referral Center for High School Alternatives (part of
which consists of alternative schools and programs). There is a Referral Center in each borough with guidance counselors.
They will help students figure out how to earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. To find more information on Referral Centers, call the District 79 Office of Student Support Services at 917-521-3639 or go to the Department of Education website at:
In the US, college generally refers to an educational institution or “school” offering two- or four-year degrees to high school graduates. A university is typically larger than a college—it can contain within it various college and post-college (“graduate”) schools that share teachers, facilities, and other resources. There are many colleges and universities in the US offering different programs of study and degrees to high school graduates such as traditional liberal arts programs (focusing on traditional subjects like history, the arts and the sciences), programs that combine technical skills with more traditional subjects, or career-oriented programs such as vocational schools that certify you for a specific job.
Colleges and universities can be either public or private. Public colleges and universities are typically operated and funded by city or state governments. They are often larger and less expensive than private (privately owned and operated) colleges and universities, which can be anything from for-profit businesses to not-for-profit institutions funded in part by donations and research grants. Like high schools, some colleges are more selective, prestigious, or academically challenging than others. Some are designed to be accessible to as many qualified students as possible. They also vary in cost. While public colleges are typically less expensive than privates, many privates (and publics) offer scholarships and other forms of aid to help low-income students afford an education. In other words, even though some colleges have high tuition and other costs, that should not stop interested students from exploring their options there (for example, talking to the school’s admissions and financial aid officers). If they want a ‘college’ education, virtually all students, including undocumented students, can find options that work in New York City.
To learn about the wide variety of options, a student should start gathering lots of information at least a year or two before high school graduation. For example, talk to guidance counselors, talk to admissions officers at colleges (the people in charge of recruiting new students), and do research at your local library (NYC public libraries often have free college information sessions, test prep, and many reference books on going to college). It can be very helpful to reach out to current college students through student organizations and clubs or through admissions offices. Also, involvement in organizations in New York City like Make the Road
or the New York State Youth Leadership Council
provide opportunities both for community service and for interacting with current college students who know a lot about the process.
Below we will outline the basic steps necessary to apply to a college program, focusing specifically on the City University of New York, also known as “
.” CUNY is the public university system of New York City. Every student who graduates from a NYC high school has a right to study at CUNY; they will not be turned away. The student’s grades and other criteria are used to match students to the best program for their needs, which may be a community college, a four-year school, or a program to help a student build necessary skills for college.
For students with a high school degree or its equivalent, CUNY offers eleven “senior colleges” that award four-year “BA
” (bachelor’s) degrees, a more challenging “honors” BA program called the Macaulay Honors College, and two-year associate’s degrees
at its seven community colleges. Unlike public elementary, middle, and high school, a degree from CUNY is not mandatory and not free. Students pay instruction fees called tuition (currently $6,330 per year for full-time students at a four-year college and $4,800 per year for full-time students at a community college—and these rates rise somewhat each year) as well as other fees (when applicable) such as technology fees, housing fees, health services fees, and student activities fees. Students have options available to them in terms of how to pay these costs: scholarships (based on academic merit or other criteria, these can be of varying amounts from full tuition and fees to just a fraction of these costs, but they don’t have to be repaid), loans (from the government, banks or other sources), grants (usually based on need and non-repayable), savings, and other means. “Financial aid” refers to the funds available to help students cover tuition, fees and other expenses while in school. More detailed information about applying to CUNY and applying for financial aid is available below.
There are independent, non-profit organizations that offer students and their families financial counseling. Some of these, such as
Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF)
, are non-profit organizations that help young people pursue their educational goals in a financially ‘smart’ way. These and other web resources are listed under “Other Internet resources
A note on undocumented students:
a student can apply to and attend a CUNY institution even if they are undocumented. Undocumented students should not be afraid to apply to or register at CUNY. There are policies that make it possible for you to apply, enroll and register without a social security number. Anyone who tells you that undocumented students cannot enroll or must pay higher rates of tuition as “international students” is violating CUNY policy and state law.
Please call the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at 347-577-4080 for assistance if you feel like you were given misinformation or experienced discrimination. Be sure to note the name, office, and college where this occurred.
Also, a 2002 law allows most undocumented students who graduate from a New York State high school or GED program to be eligible for in-state tuition. The following brochure has more information:
Who is Eligible to Pay In-State Tuition at CUNY PDF
Students can also contact the
Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute
CUNY Welcome Center
for more information and to get help applying for in-state tuition.
Undocumented students are generally ineligible for state or federally funded financial aid, but they may qualify for certain private scholarships. Also, if undocumented students meet the in-state tuition requirements and are accepted into the Macaulay Honors College, they qualify for additional financial support. The Honors College should be contacted directly for more information:
Website: Macaulay Honors College at CUNY
More information on possible financial strategies available to undocumented students is described below.
Basic steps for applying to CUNY and other colleges:
What you should do before/by 11th grade:
During 12th grade:
Get good grades! Good grades are the most important factor colleges consider in accepting students. Your grade point average is important. Get any academic help you need to support your high school education, work closely with teachers, and approach your education as a both your right and your responsibility.
Get involved: Getting involved in different activities (clubs, sports, community service, the arts) exposes students to new social groups, interests, and challenges. When deciding whom to admit, many colleges look at whether a student has been involved in community service or participated in diverse activities inside and outside of school. It’s never too early to get involved.
Find out which programs suit your goals: For example, CUNY has 20 campuses for undergraduates (BA/ associate’s degree students) located across all five boroughs. There are four-year senior colleges and two-year community colleges, each with its own academic programs (CUNY’s Brooklyn College, for example, offers more than 80 undergraduate programs). The “Honors College” is actually an honors program for high achievers that is available at many of these colleges. The diverse student populations, locations, and programs give students a chance to grow socially and be involved in community service and leadership activities. Campus tours are available, as are appointments with admissions counselors (firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-290-5607). When you have identified colleges and programs that are you interested in, you can focus on their specific entrance requirements, costs, and other program-specific details.
Take standardized tests required to apply: CUNY, like many other colleges and universities, requires that applying students provide them with the results of standardized tests: the SAT or the ACT. These should be taken in 11th or 12th grades—well in advance of admissions deadlines. (In 10th grade, many students take the PSAT as preparation and practice for the SAT.)
Because these tests are an important part of the admissions process, many students take test prep classes or buy test prep materials—some of which can be very expensive. However, free test prep is often available through local libraries, local colleges and community-based organizations. Sample tests and other materials are also available on-line from various sources, for example, from the free non-profit
Khan Academy website)
or from the companies that make the standardized tests (
College Board and
A guidance counselor/college advisor can help you locate free or discounted test prep materials.
Reach out for support: high school guidance counselors or college advisors are there to help guide you in this process and provide the information you need, but in some cases they tend to a large number of students and are unaware of policies and services for immigrant families or undocumented students. Counselors should be realistic and clear about admissions standards, and have high expectations for students, and they should never discourage a student from pursuing a college education. When possible, it’s also a good idea to find an additional trustworthy professional in your school who can offer you advice, listen to your concerns, read your personal essays, help review applications, and otherwise give you guidance and support: a teacher, a club leader, a coach, or a principal/vice principal. The more professionals who get to know and support a student, the better. Also, many colleges ask students for letters of recommendation—letters of support from a teacher or someone who knows the student and can speak about their strengths and achievements. A college’s current students can also help guide high schoolers who want to apply: matches can be made through student groups, admissions offices, and the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College (
The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute or
It is always a good idea to start thinking about these relationships from the moment you start high school.
Identify colleges and find out their specific application requirements and methods: as soon as you have decided where you want to apply, you need to find out the specific application requirements for each one. The process for choosing a college is not unlike that for choosing a high school. In addition to finding a program that matches your interests, you should consider factors such as tuition, fees, financial aid possibilities, location, specialized graduation requirements, school and class size, culture or atmosphere, facilities, career or job placement services, and likelihood of being admitted to mention only a few important characteristics. If possible, attend open houses and visit the campuses. After you have identified the colleges, you should look at their websites and contact their admissions counselors to determine the schools’ admission requirements and methods (the ways in which applicants are admitted)—different colleges and programs at CUNY may require additional applications, materials or procedures.
Apply for admissions: There are two deadlines for CUNY general admissions (spring and fall admissions) and one deadline for the Macaulay Honors Program. The application website for “freshman” (students starting their first year of college who have not previously attended college) is located at:
CUNY Prepare as a Freshman
Again, a student will also need to provide high school transcripts, standardized test (SAT or ACT) scores, and for some programs letters of recommendation from teachers, essays or personal statements, and other supplemental application materials. A student can apply to up to six colleges on a single CUNY application with a single application fee. A limited quantity of CUNY application fee waivers are provided to high school counselors/college advisors to be distributed to current students with the most financial need--see the guidance counselor/college advisor at your high school as soon as possible if you need an application fee waiver.
If your high school diploma was earned from a school outside the US, your translated secondary school transcript will be required, as will translations of any other relevant foreign language documents. You will also have to provide your scores from an English language proficiency test (usually the TOEFL or IELTS). Make an appointment with a CUNY admissions counselor to better understand these tests and this process.
Apply for financial aid: Applying for financial aid can be as intimidating and complicated as applying for college, but going through the process can help a student identify smart ways to pay for college. Categories of student financial aid usually include grants and scholarships (which a student doesn’t usually have to pay back), work-study (being provided with a paying job by the university while a student), and loans from reputable lenders. Finding out about financial aid options well in advance of any deadlines can help a student identify all the options available. A student can apply for financial aid even before they are accepted into college. To apply for federal aid (from the federal government) students generally have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online at
To apply for aid from New York State students have to fill out an application at
Higher Education Services Corporation. You can also go to the CUNY financial aid office for paper applications and to the CUNY financial aid website for more information:
CUNY General questions
To enter CUNY in the fall, CUNY generally recommends that students apply for financial aid soon after January 1 that same year, but not before (an application that is received before January 1 for the fall semester of the following year will not be processed and you'll have to reapply). To enter in the spring, they recommend that you apply before November of the previous year so that your financial aid application is processed before classes start. Always check the CUNY website and speak with admissions counselors for the most up-to-date information on deadlines.
Undocumented students are generally ineligible for state or federally funded financial aid, but they may qualify for certain private scholarships, depending on the requirements. For example, the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College offers scholarships that range from $4500 to $6030 to CUNY undergraduate and graduate students who meet three criteria: academic excellence, financial need, and commitment to service in the Mexican community. Currently, the scholarship can only be used for tuition. The scholarship primarily aids students with little or no access to other funding sources. Because its emphasis is on financial need and because it does not discriminate based on immigration status, this program has been particularly successful in aiding undocumented students. For more information this program can be contacted directly at (347) 577-4080 or
Their website is at: The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute.
There is also a four year DREAM.US scholarship available to “DREAMer” students who are DACA or TPS eligible and have applied for or received DACA or TPS approval (see
The Dream. If you are undocumented, ask a CUNY admissions counselor for more information on these or similar scholarship options. You will not be reported to immigration authorities for speaking with a CUNY college admissions counselor, applying to college or for aid at CUNY, or for enrolling at CUNY.
First time 9th grade students who want to change high schools can reapply to schools that accept 10th grade students via the yearly high school admissions process. For details on this process, see “How to apply to High School (for 8th grade / first time 9th grade students).”
After 10th grade, it is difficult to change schools unless you are applying for a transfer due to a documented hardship:
If your child has a severe medical issue that can be addressed by a change in school: You must provide documentation signed by a doctor on the medical provider’s letterhead stating the medical condition and the reason why the transfer is recommended.
If you feel that your child is unsafe at his or her current school: All safety transfer requests and supporting documentation must come from schools themselves. Families should not bring the documentation to the
Family Welcome Centers.
Schools must fax an occurrence report or other school documentation; a police report, docket number or court documentation, Safety Transfer Summary of Investigation form, or a Safety Transfer Intake form, as appropriate.
If your high school student’s commute is 75 minutes or greater, or otherwise inaccessible by public transportation.
Is it mandatory:
Yes. Students cannot voluntarily withdraw from full-time school until they have completed the school year during which they turn 17 years old.
Is it free:
Yes, programs offered by the NYC Department of Education (district schools and charter schools) are free through the 12th grade for students up to the age of 21.
Are there special programs for academically advanced children:
There are high school programs oriented toward different levels of achievers, including high achievers.
Are there bilingual programs or programs for English language learners:
Are there special programs or help for disabled students or other special needs:
Early Fall/Fall 2016 – If you are interested in applying to a new school next year, this fall is a good time to review the individual school websites, contact the schools, ask about open houses or tours, and learn their admission processes.
10th graders: Prepare to take the PSAT this school year, make sure you are familiar with your school’s high school graduation requirements, make sure you are preparing for college by taking preparatory courses, joining clubs or activities, doing community service, and making relationships (see CUNY admissions process details).
11th graders: Continue college prep activities, start studying for the SAT or ACT, start researching the college applications process, make sure you are on track to graduate on time, start making a list of specific application deadlines for 12th grade (college admissions and financial aid)
12th graders: Take standardized tests before college admissions deadlines, apply for college admissions and financial aid.