College Bound: My Experience with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute

college preparation over zoom

A rising high school senior describes his experience with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Leadership Institute, designed to help young Hispanic men and women who wish to pursue higher education.

Opportunities often swamp the inboxes of high school upperclassmen in the form of college readiness seminars, internships, and community service. It is commonplace for high school students to take part in these summer programs before their senior year in an effort to explore their interests, prepare for college admissions, and spice up their resumes.

An e-mail from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s U-Chicago Youth Leadership Institute (HSF U-Chicago YLI) appeared in my inbox one day and my first impression sadly was, “Won’t this look great on my transcript!” So, I applied and waited.

In due time, I received a cheery acceptance. I registered to all the zoom meetings (and there were a lot!) and worried about the five days of YLI approaching. “What a pessimist! How ungrateful!” you might be thinking, but an entire school year governed by the laws of Zoom makes you a bit allergic to more screen time and virtual formats.

Fortunately, this all changed after my first meeting, preceding the five-day program, with Familia 4: a group of six high school rising seniors and Memo, our college mentor. This initially awkward Zoom meeting seeded the experience with HSF that I am immensely grateful for.

The first thing that stood out to me was the caliber of students and staff that surrounded me. Not only were they scholastically excellent, but the energy, positivity, and drive they exhibited was contagious. This was the environment necessary for the transmission of invaluable knowledge. From information on financial aid, to admissions, to essay writing, to nailing interviews, to financial wellness, and the experience passed on by renowned Hispanic leaders. I don’t know what I would have done with myself if I had missed it! Guided by mentors and staff, reflection on what had been learned gave way to the exchange of perspectives and the creation of community. HSF gave its Scholars networking opportunities that crossed state lines, educational interests, and professions. Over the course of five days, I was transformed from a skeptic to a believer in the program’s merit, not only as preparation for college, but as a community to support one another through admissions, college, and our professional careers.

Fidel A. Vargas founded the nonprofit in 1975 where it has since provided over $650 million in scholarships to students and alumni and support for HSF scholars, HSF alumni, and parents alike through programs like the U-Chicago Youth Leadership Institute. With an emphasis on college education, the HSF has supported countless students in achieving their dreams and advancing the Hispanic narrative.

In my eyes the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has moved mountains in terms of its support for Hispanic youth in the academic realm and beyond.

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