College Aid Hard to Navigate for Immigrants' Kids Ricky Zhang of Youth Radio is the son of Chinese immigrants. His parents don't speak English, so when it came time to fill out financial aid forms and scholarship applications, he was on his own.
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College Aid Hard to Navigate for Immigrants' Kids

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College Aid Hard to Navigate for Immigrants' Kids

College Aid Hard to Navigate for Immigrants' Kids

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Our series on paying for college concludes today with a student's-eye perspective. Youth Radio's Ricky Zhang is finishing up high school, looking ahead to his freshman year of college and getting his finances in order. He is the son of Chinese immigrants, and his parents don't speak English. So when it comes to filling out aid forms and scholarship applications, he's on his own.

RICKY ZHANG reporting:

Whoever said senior year is easy was totally wrong. Before I explain, I'll tell you the good news. I got into UCLA. The bad news is that I can't afford it without a lot of financial aid. Most people just have their parents take care of that part--you know, filling out all the required forms. But my parents don't speak English, which means I have to do it by myself.

(Soundbite of paper shuffling)

ZHANG: And here's the FAFSA, which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And look at all these weird questions like, IRA deductions on payments to self-employed SEP. My God. This is crazy.

All those numbers and the FAFSA form just go right past my head. Subtracting this gross income and that gross income--eek! I hate it. UCLA is going to cost me almost $23,000 a year to pay for everything--dorm, tuition, books and living expenses. And I'm going to have to borrow most of that money. I've accepted my fate. But my mom likes to nag, nag, nag. And figuring out college and money has really got her going.

Ricky's Mother: (Foreign language spoken)

ZHANG: OK, here's what I'm talking about. My mom is saying that I treat money as if it isn't important.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZHANG: But I should do fine handling a budget in college. After all, at my house, I write all the checks and send off most of the bills. When my parents go to the DMV or the doctor, I'm the one who has to translate. This stuff is part of my daily life.

I'm not the only one. Nineteen-year-old Kenny Li is also the son of Chinese immigrants, and took care of his own college paperwork. He got into Cal Poly, where he was planning to study computer science, but his school didn't get all his financial aid forms on time.

Mr. KENNY LI (College Applicant): So even though I was accepted, I couldn't afford to go. I have a different plan now. So although I guess it would've been different if I had gone to Cal Poly in the first place, I don't see its importance as of now.

ZHANG: Kenny's new plan is to become a teacher. He didn't change his career goals just because he didn't get financial aid, but it was a factor. He's studying at Pasadena City College now, but he's not upset about his situation; he's just accepted it.

I'm that way, too. If I wasn't born here, things would be much more complicated. Many first-generation immigrant kids have a different story than mine.

LUIS CARLOS DA SILVA (High School Student): My parents migrated to the United States because they decided to look for a better job and better opportunities, you know, for my future and my sister's future.

ZHANG: Luis Carlos da Silva is from Brazil. His dad got permission to come to the US and applied for visas for the rest of the family. Luis is in high school right now and wants to go to college like other people in his family. But he can't afford it. And because of his immigration status, he's not eligible for financial aid. Luis says he has very few options because his visa doesn't allow him to work. So there's no way he can even save money for his education.

DA SILVA: After high school, it's either get out of the US or work illegally. It's really hard. It's going to mess with my future, it's going to mess with my life.

ZHANG: I feel for Luis. Our situations are so different. He feels like he has fewer opportunities than his immigrant parents. I feel like I have more. But my situation isn't perfect. I'm the only child living with Mom and Dad, and Mom only completed high school, and Dad, middle school. So my parents can't really share any college experiences with me, but they can share my ambitions. Even though we can't afford it, I never consider not going to college. My debts will be close to $100,000, but it's totally worth it to me and to my parents. For NPR News, I'm Ricky Zhang.

SIEGEL: That story was produced by Youth Radio in association with National Geographic. The entire series on paying for college is on our Web site,

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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