By Jennifer Carcamo, 18, HighTech L.A. (2008 graduate)
Print This Post

During high school, I was lucky enough to have a college counselor, Ms. Koven, who devoted herself to making sure that everyone could go to college. I wanted to interview her because her advice and guidance helped me and many of my classmates get into college, and I have no doubt it will help others too.

Illustration by Francisco Sandoval, 16,
Nogales HS (La Puente)

Jennifer: What should students be thinking about when applying to college?

Ms. Koven: They should look for what kind of college fits them best. Some things to consider are the size of the school, the location and the majors that are offered. You want to try to match your grade point average and SAT scores, or ACT scores, as best as you can with colleges that you’re applying to. You also want to look at financial aid. How much does the school cost? All schools have money available for students but you just have to find the right fit of college and then pursue what kind of scholarship money they have.

What can students do to be prepared?
Take all the courses required for graduation and then the requirements of the universities that they are applying to. Most students have to start early in ninth grade deciding what college prep classes to take with the most challenging curriculum that is offered. In addition to that, colleges look at extracurriculars. What do you do outside of the classroom? What kind of a person are you? What else do you do in your life other than homework? What do you do beyond that sort of minimum expectation that makes you interesting and uses your skills and different talents?

How important do you think personal statements are and how do think students should go about making them individual?
For colleges that require a personal statement, most look at that as another piece of the application that can give them some insight into the student’s personality, struggles or triumphs, and get a little bit of a better picture so they’re not just a number or a resume. It’s your opportunity to really show who you are … if you’re the first generation college bound in your family, any struggles you’ve had, let’s say if you’ve had a learning disability or something very dramatic happened to you during your high school years, you can explain why there was a dip in your grades. To make it unique, it should reflect a personal experience and really reflect who you are.

What would you recommend that freshmen do as they start high school?
Focus on doing well in their studies and their grades because ninth grade grades do count. Aside from that, getting involved in their high school so that they get involved in high school life, make new friends and get involved extracurricularly from the beginning so that they understand what it’s like to go to school and do something outside of school and learn to balance your time.

What would be some recommendations you have for seniors?
Start early. Don’t wait to do your personal statement, update your resume, or make sure that you’ve gone through graduation check with a counselor until your senior year. Coming into your senior year, you should have a pretty good idea of the type of schools you want to apply to. Seniors should also continue to stay involved and show dedication to whatever it is that they’re interested in—journalism, sports, photography, etc. Also, regarding financial aid and scholarships, you can’t wait until the last minute and expect the best results. It’s one evening that you sit down and fill out the FAFSA with your parents and [that] could mean a lot of money.

What are your favorite resources for looking into colleges?
You can go to the school’s website. You can look at the [book] Fiske Guide to Colleges. I’d say give colleges a visit and go out and meet students that go there and talk to students on that campus.

Are there any local colleges that you recommend students look into that aren’t big names like UCLA, Stanford or Berkeley?

Well, it depends on the student. I think that any student who goes to college is great. It has to do with fit. So whichever college fits best with you and the majors that you want to pursue. I also encourage our students to look at smaller colleges because UCs and Cal States aren’t the only schools out there but they’re a lot of what our students hear about. I encourage students to look at smaller, private universities, that are close to us.

Can you name a few?
Mount St. Mary’s College and they have two campuses here in Los Angeles. In addition to that, it depends on the student’s interests, right, if they’re interested in art specifically, Otis College. Other colleges that students look at that are close by like the University of La Verne or the Claremont colleges, which is a consortium of colleges. You can look those up to see which ones they are like Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Scripps College. Those are smaller private colleges. Students seem to always be interested in Pepperdine as a local college.
    But, I also encourage students to look out of state because I think also going away from home, you know, experiencing living in a different part of the country is also a valuable experience. There are a lot of really good places and it’s just [about] the fit. And all of these four-year colleges will give you the same degrees—a B.A., a B.S., right? What’s most important to me is that students go to college.

You mentioned going out of state, how would you go about seeing if a student can handle going out of state. How do they know if they’re ready to handle that?
We try to encourage students to go to a summer program as one of the ways to introduce students to living away from home. Even if you live away from home at UCLA or you live away from home at UC Irvine. It’s not so far away, but it does help you get your feet wet a little bit and see what its like to see a little bit of what it’s like to live away from home. And then, you know, there are just some students that want that. They come in and they say I want to live in a place that’s cold. I want to, you know, live on the East Coast. I want to live in the Midwest, you know, they want a different experience. So, it depends on how sort of adventurous the student is or how will they are to try new things.

What’s the most common mistake students make when looking into schools?
Missing financial aid deadlines is number one. If you miss the financial aid deadline there is nothing anyone can do about it. Second is waiting until the last minute to ask their teachers for letters of recommendation. Teachers have limited time and often time they have families and they do stuff on their own and if you wait until the last minute they might agree to do it, or they might not, but if you ask them last minute, chances are their letter won’t be as good as if you asked in advance.

Is there any final advice you have?
Yes, start early. Ask your counselors and teachers lots of questions. All your teachers have been to college. If the counselor isn’t available you can find a teacher who you like that can help you. And the other thing is, you don’t have to be a straight-A student to go to college. You can have a grade point average between 2.0 and 3.0 and still go to a Cal State, which is a four-year school. There are a lot of different options for students.

Click here to read …

How I chose the right college. A counselor answers questions on how to prepare for the application process.

Applying for financial aid. Starting early made it easier for Sasha, 19, and her parents.