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Bilingual Education & English as a New Language

Roadmap to College for English Language Learners and Multilingual Learners

A College Access Guide for English Language Learners/Multilingual Learners in New York State

The content on this page is available as a color brochure, suitable for printing:  PDF version of tri-fold brochure for printing.

The brochure PDF is now available in eight other languages: Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian, Karen, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu

Have a Goal

There are many reasons to choose college education as a goal. This chart shows the value of each diploma over a lifetime. These numbers may increase when the candidate is bilingual.

High School Diploma Only = $1.30 Million
Some College = $1.55 Million
Bachelor's Degree = $2.27 Million
Master's Degree = $2.67 Million
Doctoral Degree = $3.25 Million
Professional Degree = $3.65 Million








College graduates earn at least a million dollars more than high school graduates over their lifetime!

Carnevale, A.P., Rose, S.J. and Cheah, B. (2011) The College Pay-off: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings. Center for Education and The Workforce, Georgetown University.

Pew Research Center, February, 2014, The Rising Cost of Not Going to College

College graduates…

  • have lower unemployment rates
  • experience better health
  • find interesting careers that maximize their earnings potentials
  • report higher levels of happiness
  • participate more in the community as shown by higher voting and volunteerism rates
  • have higher rates of homeownership, and
  • can help their children to earn higher grades in school
Picking the Right College for You

Choose a college that helps you prepare for the future you want. Remember that going to college has to be your decision and your choice. Don’t let the influence of television and other media, classmates and friends, family, and teachers push you in another direction. No one else can make this decision for you. Ultimately, you need to be able to live with the choice you make.

Think about your studies in school and consider what you are most successful at and enjoy doing.

What are your interests, abilities, aptitudes, likes, and dislikes?

What classes are your favorites? ...and why?


After you’ve identified your interests and aptitude, you can figure out what college culture is your best fit.

Does the college you are considering teach in a way that fits your learning style? Do you learn better in large lecture halls of 200 plus students or in small groups of less than 10 students? Do you learn better with writing assignments, online activities, presentations, or group projects? 

Colleges have different programs, facilities and resources, opportunities, faculty expertise, and financial support options for students. Colleges are evaluated for their graduation, retention, and career placement rates; rates of promotion (the time it takes to earn a degree) and admission to graduate school, and other important factors. Geographic location is an important factor in choosing a college.  Are you prepared to live away from home or do you need the everyday support of your family? Can you be comfortable in your college’s community? Are there people (students or faculty) who speak your home language or are from your culture?  Is there diversity?

Many colleges offer virtual online tours so you can get a first impression of whether or not you would fit in that particular college environment. Students should visit a variety of different schools to get a sense of what feels right.

Find colleges that have the best academic support re-sources for English Language Learners/Multilingual Learners (usually in a Learning Center or Writing Lab).

The Colleges in New York State and Beyond

The City University of New York (CUNY) has 24 campuses in New York City with 11 senior colleges (4 year), 7 community colleges, the Graduate Center, Graduate School of Journalism, School of Public Health, Law School, and School of Professional Studies.

The State University of New York (SUNY) has 64 institutions across New York State, including 10 university centers and institutions granting Doctoral Degrees; 13 university colleges; 8 technology colleges; and 30 community colleges.

The Council for Independent Colleges and Universities lists 108 private colleges and universities in New York State. 

In addition, there are 439 more colleges and universities in the Northeast region—Connecticut (46), Maine (30), Massachusetts (113), New Hampshire (20), New Jersey (44), Pennsylvania (130), Rhode Island (13), and Vermont (23). The U.S. Department of Education counts 4,626 colleges and universities in the United States. 

So there is definitely a right college for you out there.

Learn from your high school guidance counselor how to answer these questions and do research using these free sites:

Make a Plan

To be prepared for college-level work…

  • take challenging coursework in elementary, middle, and
  • high school in English, mathematics, science, social studies, languages, and the arts
  • find out the subjects you are good at and the subjects for which you might need assistance
  • learn how to study, take tests, and complete projects effectively
  • decide what careers interest you and discover what you will need to enter your chosen career
How to Apply to College Step by Step
  1. Meet with your high school guidance counselor as early as 9th grade to discuss college preparedness and then continue to meet with him or her regularly.
  2. Take the SAT or ACT and do your best.
  3. Find the colleges/universities that match your goals.
  4. Get 2-3 recommendation letters from teachers and school counselors.  
  5. Have official copies of your grades and test scores ready to be sent. (If your school’s records are not in English,  get certified translations of your diploma and transcript.)
  6. Make sure you know what each college requires to apply and what the deadlines are.
  7. On your application, fill out the required information: name, address, email, citizenship/visa status, family in-formation, optional section asking for ethnic identity, marital status and other personal information that can help you if you are an international student and/or ethnic minority, educational data, high school, counselor’s name and contact information, previous schools attended and college courses you may have taken, SAT and/or ACT test scores (and make sure the colleges/universities receive your official test scores from the testing agencies).
  8. Provide information on your high school achievements: ac-ademic honors, extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, and unique accomplishments. Write about extra programs or classes you have taken as well as jobs you’ve had to show your dependability and willingness to work hard.
  9. Often colleges will require two essays or “personal statements”—a short one and a longer one. The Common Application requires an essay of 150 words or less on one of your extracurricular or work activities, and one of 250- 500 words. The longer essay may ask that you write about a person who has had a significant influence on you; an important personal, local, national or global event; or what personal qualities you have that add to the college’s diversity. Practice writing these essays with writing instructors to present yourself in the best light.
  10. A student admissions interview may be required.
  11. Most of all, make sure you stress your bilingualism and the experiences you’ve had that make you stand out. 
Paying for Your College Education

The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion a year in grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans to more than 15 million students.

Federal and State sources – money is available to eligible students through the federal government. Students/families must complete the FAFSA to show financial need.

Institutional (College) – each college has their own scholar-ship application for money that is awarded through the school. Money may be awarded based on academic achievement, talent (athletics, music, etc.), unique student characteristics, etc.

Private Scholarships – there are thousands of private scholarships nationwide. Scholarships are awarded for a variety of characteristics in addition to need or academic merit. Look for scholarships for international students or students who speak other languages.

The cost of going to college will affect the colleges to which you will apply. Be sure to ask the right questions: 

  • What will I pay? What is my net price?
  • How will I pay? Will my degree provide enough income and career opportunities to pay back my debt?
  • Am I eligible to receive scholarships or grants?
  • Am I eligible for federal student aid?
  • What is the graduation or completion rate for the institution?
  • Will I be able to repay my loans?

Developed by The Bronx Institute at Lehman College of The City University of New York 
on behalf of The New York State Education Department Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages

Updated 1/6/2021