A lesson plan to accompany "College: How we got accepted" by the students from San Fernando HS.

By Libby Hartigan, managing editor
Grades: 8-12, but especially juniors and seniors

Purpose: To develop students’ reading comprehension and analytical skills. To help teens imagine going to college, and prepare them for defending their decision against the doubts and fears of people around them.

Applying to college


For the average teenager, college is a vague idea looming in the future, a misty mountaintop which they may perceive with dread, anticipation or indifference. When it comes down to actually applying to college, the task of selecting schools, completing applications and pursuing financial aid can be overwhelming. On top of that, many students have to defend their college dreams against skeptics—other teens, teachers, neighbors and their own family members and even themselves.

Warm-up: Write the word “college” on the board and ask students to discuss how they feel when they see that word. Are they scared, excited or just tired of talking about it? Do they feel they’ll be ready for college when the time comes? Why or why not?

Read two articles about college:
With a little help from my friends and teacher” by Cesar Martinez on page 10,
Me—at a private college?” by Blanca Valdes on page 10.

Discussion questions:
These questions could be assigned as a written reading comprehension exercise, or used to prompt a class discussion. Tell the students they have to give at least two concrete examples to answer each question.

Why was Cesar depressed at the beginning of his senior year?
–His family was breaking apart.
–He was dealing with schoolwork and a job.
–He had no one to give him support and felt empty inside.

What were some of the challenges he faced in applying to college?
–He was depressed and felt like he couldn’t go on sometimes.
–He wasn’t organized or good with paperwork.
–He was worn out and frustrated.

How was he able to get into college?
–His friends were like a second family.
–He filled out a small part of the application each day and didn’t try to do it all at once.
–His teacher believed in him and pushed him.
–He got accepted into the Posse Foundation.

How does he feel about going to college?
–He wants to go so he can achieve in life.
–He feels pressure to be a role model to his younger brother and sister.
–He tells himself that he can make it through college.

Which college was Blanca considering at first?
–At first she didn’t have a clue.
–She considered Cal State Northridge because she was familiar with it.
–She knew many of her friends would be at Cal State Northridge.
–At Cal State Northridge, she would be close to home.

What doubts did she have about Cal State Northridge?
–She didn’t like the fact that it has a high student-to-teacher ratio.
–She wanted a chance to talk to her professors.
–Her teacher took her to a private college, University of Redlands.

How did she feel when she got into the University of Redlands?
–She was ecstatic.
–She never thought a Mexican girl like her would get in.
–She felt it was worth the time and effort she put into her college applications.

Many teens have doubts as they go through the college application process. What doubts do your students have? What obstacles do they feel they need to overcome in order to go to college? How can students help themselves and their friends achieve their goals?

Ms. Pike, the English teacher who helped Cesar and Blanca get into college, wrote that many of her students have to deal with negative comments from classmates and relatives as they go through the process. Ask your students to write a written response to each of the following comments, defending themselves and their college dreams.

What college would want you?

How can you afford college?

You’ll flunk out of college.

Why don’t you just get a job?

You’re not going to find any friends, because you don’t fit in with those college kids.

How can you pick a major when you don’t know what your interests are?

I didn’t go to college, so why should you?

Extension activity:
Read “College freak out” by Geraldo Raygoza on pages 12-13. Write Geraldo a letter responding to the experience he had when he applied to college during his senior year. Do you relate to Geraldo’s ambitious goals, his observations about his indifferent classmates? How did Geraldo’s definition of success change through the year? Do you agree with his conclusion about what success means?