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My school makes sure we all go to college

One great thing about going to a school with only 514 students is that I get more attention to my college preparation. Ramona is known for sending 99-100 percent of its seniors to college each year. Our counselors work hard to get each student the information needed to go to the college of her choice. Even the freshmen get lectures about the future.

It got heavier my junior year. They gave me tons of fliers and booklets about different colleges. I was also told which courses to take so I wouldn’t take unnecessary classes. Then senior year I met again with my counselor to talk more seriously. She gave me good advice, answered my questions, and offered to write my counselor recommendation. I never knew that some non-UC schools don’t require SAT2 scores, and I was relieved to find out I didn’t have to take them. I never thought I was college material, but she talked me into believing that I would get into a great college and do well there. She makes the application process seem less stressful, because I feel she’s there taking me through it step-by-step. All my classmates got the same treatment, and it is because of my school counseling program that come Fall 2005, we’ll be on our way to the next step of life. I’m hoping to get into USC or Pepperdine University. Cross your fingers for me!
—Valentina Cardenas, 17, Ramona Convent (Alhambra)

Our counselors are swamped

The biggest problem with counselors at Franklin High is availability. There are three tracks, 3,180 students and only FOUR counselors. That’s about 800 kids per counselor. Sure they have assemblies, and visit classes every once in a while but it doesn’t help when a five-minute talk is all you get. Once I was called by my counselor to have the "college talk" in which she summed it up in one simple sentence: "Good job, keep up the good work." If a student really wants questions answered he or she should use the Internet or attend the school’s annual college fair. Franklin’s recent fair was a useful way to gather college information. When you need a counselor, you have to go to their offices, ask questions, and they’ll help just to get you out of their hair, but I get most of my information from teachers and my mentor. Counselors mean well, but they have too many students on their hands. And they don’t need me to give them a bigger headache.
—Marvin Novelo, 17, Franklin HS (Highland Park)

Somehow they make time for us

Torrance High School has only four counselors to deal with the scheduling, academic, college, and scholarship-related needs of 2,000 students. Getting a counseling appointment can be difficult; counselors are always busy and the slots fill up quickly.

This might sound troubling, but our four counselors do an amazing job. In September, they coordinated a series of college nights and went from class to class, trying to get juniors to sign up for the PSAT.

All of our counselors are knowledgeable; one used to be an admissions officer at Chapman University. And when my counselor hasn’t been able to answer a question, I’ve been able to approach one of the others.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of how available the counselors make themselves but how much of an effort you make to see them. Even if they’re busy during class hours, they’re very willing to see students during their lunch hours and even after school. I’ve found this invaluable in my college search.
—Chris Palencia, 17, Torrance HS

Intense college prep really works

To illustrate how much time I spend in our school’s college counseling office: I probably don’t need to pack a lunch, because there’s a bowl of candy there and I take a piece every time I go, which is often.

My class started college counseling at the beginning of our second semester junior year. Once a week, we spent one of our free periods with the college counselors. They created a binder for each of us with calendars, organization charts and other information. On top of that, we each had to answer a dozen lengthy questions about our ideal college, and what we’re like. This was assigned so that the counselors could get to know me, but I think it was more useful to me for writing essays. At the end of the summer, we were instructed to fill out the Common Application used by many colleges, and write an essay about what we did over the summer.

This year, we still have college counseling classes to remind us to stay on schedule. I also have individual meetings with one counselor whenever I need some "therapy" as I waver back and forth on my future plans.

I also visit colleges’ admissions Web pages and check whether there are current students that I can e-mail with questions. There are LiveJournal.com communities for some colleges where prospective students can post questions. Current students also write about current goings-on on campus (like "Does the library smell funny this week, or is it just me?") that give a sense of what it’s like to live on campus.
—Sarah Peterson, 17, Flintridge Preparatory School

Information, assemblies, after-school meetings all help

At North Hollywood High School the college counseling that’s available to all the students is excellent. The college center is filled with information on testing, colleges, scholarships and counselors.

Since ninth grade, there have been assemblies on required classes, how many credits we need to graduate and how to relax about the application process.

This year, as seniors, we are being pulled out of our classes by a UC representative and given our UC GPAs (which are weighted for honors and AP classes) and information on the UC system. Recently there was a "UC Day" and a "Cal State LA day" where students could visit these campuses and attend application and essay workshops with representatives from these universities.

Our college counselor is offering after-school appointments for students and their parents to assist them with their list of colleges, or answer questions about the process.
—Robyn Licht, 17, North Hollywood HS