For newcomer teens and families, deciding what to do after high school can be difficult and filled with unknowns. The process of preparing for and applying to colleges is complex and likely unfamiliar to newcomer families, who are also apt to need information on the often difficult issue of financing college. For youth looking to move directly into the workplace, options may appear limited unless they receive help identifying training programs and other possibilities.

Some tips for helping newcomer students make decisions about life after high school:

  • Mentorship can be invaluable. Mentors can provide a connection to the larger community, a sense of belonging, as well as practical assistance in navigating the college application process, identifying and applying for financial aid, or exploring vocational and career training programs. Mentors are able to provide the kind of ongoing one-on-one assistance many students need and which school guidance counselors may not have the time for.
  • Help youth learn about the variety of options available: two year and four year colleges; public vs. private schools, technical/vocational programs; dual enrollment and other career training programs they can participate in during high school.
  • Encourage newcomer teens to stay in school. Many newcomers may have had interrupted schooling and will also be struggling with learning a new language. The process can be discouraging, and if their family is struggling financially it may seem appealing to leave school and begin work. Help kids understand the importance of a high school diploma and postsecondary education in the U.S., especially in terms of long term earning potential and the variety of jobs available.

“My advice is if you have chance of going to college, use it. I know sometimes college is challenging but it’s better because you don’t want to work for the rest of your life in the same place every day. Jobs are always there. They can wait.” –Ali, refugee youth from Somalia

College Preparation

For newcomer teens and parents, it may not be clear what is needed to prepare for college. Talk to teens about the career they want and then discuss the steps necessary to get there.

  • Host or bring teens to bilingual information sessions at high schools on college admissions processes and financial aid. Work with local colleges to host bilingual events to share information on their application process and financial aid.
  • Schools can hold information sessions during the school day for all juniors or seniors and post information on postsecondary education options around the school.
  • Advanced college prep courses are important; for students with adequate English, it may be necessary to help parents to advocate for teens to be enrolled in these courses. For students who are not ready largely due to language barriers, community college can be a good option for gaining college credit and English proficiency. Some ELL students may still be able to participate in advanced math or science courses.
  • Partner with local colleges:
    • ELL classes can take students to a local community college to explore the campus as well as visit the international student or ELL center. Make students aware of the supportive services available to them at the community college.
    • Invite former ELL students who are now in two or four year colleges to speak to ELL classes.
    • Promising practices: Yakima Valley Community College has had a weekly segment on a local Spanish language radio program; Washington State University has a Spanish language website with multimedia resources on going to college.

Promising Practices: GirlForward matches female mentors with high school age refugee girls in Chicago and Austin to provide educational support, including assistance accessing higher education. PAIR in Houston partners refugee youth with college students to assist with acculturation, education, college preparation and career goals.

Involving Parents

  • Host information sessions or create education programs for parents on college and career readiness. Send home invitations in families’ native languages and provide interpreters in major languages spoken. Share information on scholarships for immigrant and refugee students.
  • Don’t assume parents and teens know what college readiness entails in the U.S., including what courses to take. At information sessions, consider inviting refugee or immigrant parents who have gone through the college application process already so they can share their experiences.
  • Help parents understand the timeline for college applications. Parents may rely on their older children to babysit younger siblings or take care of household chores. If parents understand when things like college essays or applications are due they may be able to give their child time to work on them.
  • Parent centers within schools can be a great resource. They can be staffed with parent volunteers and provide information about the school and curricula as well as offer information on college and career readiness. A parent center can also offer access to computers and allow parents to meet each other and share information.

Promising Practice: Refugee School Impact Grant money can be used in various ways to support refugee youth in moving toward college or a career. Massachusetts RSIG has funded bilingual/bicultural parent liaisons to connect with parents and increase parent engagement in schools. It has also supported a partnership with a local food growing non-profit; refugee youth involvement has included internships and volunteer work which provides work experience, community engagement, and leadership skills.

Career Preparation and Workplace Readiness

  • Newcomer students may be particularly drawn to employment options after high school especially if they are feeling economic pressure to supplement their family’s income. These students may need help uncovering the variety of training options available to help them get better paying, more rewarding jobs.
  • Help students enroll in career and technical education (CTE) classes and programs within your school district. Some classes may be taught within traditional high schools, while others are held at community colleges and may offer both high school and college credit.
  • If possible, joint CTE and English language instruction can be effective in maximizing learning time and more swiftly helping ELL students receive valuable job skills and become proficient in English.
  • A part time job during high school can provide valuable lessons in workplace expectations and can assist newcomer students in learning and using English.
  • Military service: In addition to other career options, students may consider joining the military. Young adults with a green card can join the military. In addition, people with other legal status, such as temporary protected status (TPS), may also be able to join the military if they meet certain requirements, such as fluency in specific languages. See for additional information.

Promising Practice: Bethany Christian Services (BCS), in Grand Rapids, MI, created an innovative job training program for refugee youth in their foster care program. They partnered with a local hospital which was seeking to hire more patient transporters and diversify its staff. These staff members move patients within the hospital and require special certification to do the job. BCS refugee clients who met certain criteria (18 or older, high school diploma or GED, and able to speak English well enough to communicate with patients) could apply to be in the program. Clients were supported by BCS staff to create a resume and participate in an interview with BCS and the hospital. Successful applicants entered a 2 ½ month certification program; the training included classroom-based learning, as well as an internship at the hospital which helped participants gain familiarity with U.S. workplace norms and expectations. The classroom training was provided by a BCS staff member, which allowed for specialized attention to things like linguistic challenges (e.g. non-native speakers needing extra help learning medical terminology). Upon completion of the training, participants were offered a patient transport job at the hospital.

Undocumented Students

There is no federal law prohibiting undocumented students from attending college in the U.S. However, they may face additional challenges, such as paying for college.

  • Federal financial aid, including loans and federal work-study programs, is not available to undocumented students.
  • Some states allow undocumented students to pay in state tuition at state schools.
  • Some states and individual colleges offer financial assistance for undocumented students. See the highlighted resource list below for additional information

For more information, including resources on financial aid, check out BRYCS Highlighted Resource List: