The College Journey of a Latinx Student

Understanding Hispanic and Latino/a experiences is a way to support students. Follow the journey of one Latinx student making her way through college.
portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
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Writer & Editor

Vanesha McGee has 10 years of experience as an educator and five years of professional writing expertise. Her expertise includes DEI content relating to the needs and experiences of people of color and LGBTQ+ communities. She is also a photographer a...
Updated on September 23, 2022
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Kassandra Vargas, a senior at the University of South Florida, found her way to college out of self-described necessity. "I decided to go to college because I felt like it was something I was 'supposed to do,'" she said. Many Hispanic and Latino/a students find themselves in similar positions, going to college because it seems like the right or necessary thing to do. And the rate of college enrollment for Hispanic students continues to rise. In 2020, 36% of Hispanic adults ages 18-24 were enrolled in college — an increase from 32% in 2010.

As a Puerto Rican, Kassandra remained connected to her family and culture while attending college. After growing up in Orlando, Florida, she first attended Valencia College, where she earned an associate of arts degree. She later transferred to USF to pursue her passion for journalism, where she is now working towards a degree in digital communications and multimedia journalism. Kassandra is one of over 3 million Hispanic students enrolled in college in the United States, according to numbers reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Paying for College on Your Own

Family support can play a pivotal role in your college options and choices. For Kassandra, despite her desires, attending The New School in New York City was not an option because she lacked the necessary finances.

"My parents didn't save a college fund for me or provide any financial relief for my education," Kassandra shared. "That's the reality for many Latinx students and students of color."

Fortunately, the University of South Florida was in a location Kassandra was ready to explore and offered a program that intrigued her: "I always loved the Tampa Bay area and was interested in the journalism program that USF had to offer."

Paying for college can be challenging for many students. According to 2016 data shared by the American Council on Education, nearly 50% of Hispanic and Latino/a students who enrolled in college expected no monetary support from their families. Finding other means of financial support is often necessary.

"I didn't have any scholarships in college," Kassandra said, "but I was eligible for grants that the college had to offer. While it didn't cover all my expenses, it did take a huge relief off my shoulder every semester." Grants and scholarships for Hispanic and Latino/a students can help pay for the increasing price of tuition, making college more accessible.

"I am fortunate to live at home," Kassandra shared, "which helped me avoid using student loans to pay for school. The debt I incurred every semester, I was able to pay off with whatever job I had at the time." Part-time and full-time jobs can help students cover college tuition costs and living expenses.

Time Management 101: Juggling School and Work

Working while in college, as Kassandra experienced, adds an additional layer of complexity and makes time-management skills crucial. "While in college, I had to manage my school work, my full-time job, and also my side hustle, which was my blog."

Fortunately for Kassandra, finding a side hustle that she enjoyed allowed her to quit her full-time job. This let her focus more on school and eventually her role as a social media influencer.

"There's not one answer on how to manage your time in college because it looks different for everyone," Kassandra advised. "For myself, I made to-do lists and time-blocked hours in my calendar for every task I wanted to accomplish." Every student has different demands on their time that need to be juggled.

"You only have 24 hours in a day, so it's about using your time wisely," Kassandra went on to say. "It takes a lot of hard work though, and many students are fortunate if they don't have to work while being in school."

"It's not easy to manage a full-time job, school, and any other side interests," added Kassandra. "It's important for colleges to provide resources and aid for students of color who don't have the same opportunities as their other classmates. I didn't have any resources, or I just didn't know where to look for them."

A lack of resources or support in managing time and stress can make college feel more challenging. Finding support systems and tools, like time management apps, can make a huge difference.

Go to BestColleges Hispanic Heritage Month hub to find more stories and resources.

Preparing for the Job You Want

"As I prepare for my post-grad job hunt this semester, I know that a piece of paper (my degree) will make a little difference, but I have to bring way more to the table to get the job I want."

In her senior year at USF, Kassandra has reflected on the difficulty of obtaining the skills and opportunities she needed to move toward her career goals: "While in college, I tried to apply to jobs in my field of interest, but many applications were denied because I didn't have a BA degree yet."

"That's why it was important for me to gain experience in the industry by creating my own blog and getting an internship," Kassandra went on to say. A recent study conducted by the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin Madison found that only 20% of students held an internship during college. Finding internships related to your field of study or career aspirations can prove difficult for many students.

Kassandra successfully landed an internship where she gained experience in the media industry: "Last year, I was able to get a social media internship for a Latinx-owned PR agency and still work with them today. Being self-employed, I was able to manage my personal tasks and the internship tasks."

With college graduation in sight, Kassandra continues to ready herself for a career in media. Looking back on her efforts throughout college, she also shared, "I thankfully just had a lot of motivation and hoped that one day all my hard work would pay off."

With Contributions From:

Portrait of Kassandra Vargas, Life and Style Blogger & Founder of Stay Klassay

Kassandra Vargas, Life and Style Blogger & Founder of Stay Klassay

Kassandra Vargas is a plus-size college blogger based in Orlando, Florida, and the founder of the brand Stay Klassay. Kassandra is currently pursuing her bachelor's degree at the University of South Florida with a focus in digital communications.

During her first year of college, she decided to create a fashion blog called Stay Klassay. Since then, she has transitioned her content to cover fashion, beauty, and lifestyle topics for college women of all sizes. Kassandra has gained an audience on her blog and other social media platforms by sharing her life in an authentic way. She has partnered with brands such as Walmart, Fenty Beauty, Express, the Orlando Magic, Amazon, Good American, and Dunkin. Kassandra continues to use her platform to encourage women and show them that they don't have to justify living their life just because they aren't the "beauty standard."