Los Angeles Magazine 2010 California College Guide

Posted on July 8, 2010. Filed under: college admissions |


Getting into the college you want is a two- or three-year journey that

requires self-reflection, research, consistent action, and making careful,

informed choices. You can’t do this alone, and you don’t have to. Whether

you’re at the beginning of this adventure or close to the end, here three

experts in college admissions from the Los Angeles area offer their

wisdom and advice for reaching a successful outcome.

Know Yourself

Before you even think about colleges, take time to identify your

strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and preferences. “We

spend a lot of time with our 10th graders helping them to know

themselves, which isn’t easy for teenagers,” says Canh Oxelson,

upper school dean of college admissions at Harvard-Westlake

School. “The better they know themselves, the easier it will be to come up with

a list of schools that will be a good match.” Do you need a lot of

one-on-one time with teachers? Then UCLA might not be for you. Do you

love playing football? At a smaller college you might start, but at USC

you might never see the light of day, says Oxelson. “But then again, it

might be important for a student to be part of that USC tradition.

Maybe you already know that your learning style is best suited to

a small classroom environment,” he says, “or that you’re fine with

being anonymous in a 250-person lecture hall.” These preferences

should all play a part in finding the right college for you.

Do Extracurricular Activities That You Like

College admissions officers look at the whole picture of a student’s

life, and extracurricular activities give them a glimpse into who you

are. Some kids try to pick an activity they think will be attractive

to those officers, but this is a mistake, says Oxelson. “If you pick

an activity you really want to do, you’re more likely to distinguish

yourself than if you choose one because you’ve heard that’s what

your neighbor is doing.”

“We’re not looking for a long laundry list of experiences,” says

Rosa Pimentel, associate director of undergraduate admissions at

UCLA, “but we do look at a few experiences over time that show

some development, show where they started demonstrating

some leadership.” Whether it’s starting a singing club or working

at a homeless shelter, choose an activity that is fun and interesting,

and that you can stick with for a year or more.

“It’s impressive when you can stay focused,” says Jeannie Borin, M.Ed., President and

founder of College Connections (www.college-connections.com), a consulting service

in Los Angeles. One of Borin’s clients,  a teenage girl who liked photography,

also had an interest in doing community service. Borin suggested she exhibit

her photography in a school, then donate the money from the sales of the photos

to a local charity. “This way she was connecting her interests with

the community,” says Borin.

Be Smart About AP Courses

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses will look good on your

record, but be realistic about whether or not you can do well in them.

“There are students who can handle one advanced class, but not

four or five,” says Oxelson. “We want students to make a choice

based on what they can reasonably handle. This is different for every

kid and every subject area.”

“The number one criterion colleges look for is a challenging

curriculum,” says Borin. “But I don’t recommend taking an AP

class if a student can’t do well. Sometimes, regular or honors

courses can have a more inspiring curriculum and can include more

problem solving and inquiry.”

Still, there can be a great sense of achievement in doing well in an

advanced class. “Advanced Placement classes challenge students,

and can make them feel good about themselves,” says Pimentel.

“Some students worry about protecting their grade point average,

and to a degree that’s important. But most colleges and universities

are not going to look only at AP courses, but other factors, too.”

Take the SAT or ACT More Than Once

In order to become familiar with the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

or ACT (American College Testing), plan on taking it several times,

suggests Pimentel. Doing this will help reduce the stress and anxiety

most students feel about it.

Formally preparing for the test is a good idea, too. “You wouldn’t

show up at a marathon without practice,” Borin points out. But, she

adds, if you employ a tutoring company, choose wisely. “You want a

company that uses actual test questions and where the tutors have

firsthand experience in taking the tests themselves,” she says.

“Ninety percent of our kids do some kind of test prep,” says

Oxelson. “We advise students to take the test more than once,

depending on how they do, and how well their scores work with

schools they want to get into.”

Remember, test scores aren’t everything. In fact, many colleges

have decided to make them optional, and their admissions directors

focus instead on essays and extracurricular activities.

Assemble Your List

Once you’ve toured and researched lots of colleges, it’s time to narrow the list. Don’t

assume that the bigger colleges and universities are the best options

for you. “Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and USC are  competitive

and selective,” says Borin. “But there are smaller private schools in California

that are fantastic and that families might not know as much about,

such as Chapman, Occidental, LMU, and Pepperdine.”

How many colleges should you apply to? “We recommend

applying to eight to twelve, if chosen wisely,” says Oxelson. Once

you begin the application process, stay on top of gathering the

necessary pieces. Every college and university has different

requirements—be sure you are clear about what, where, and when to

send in all the parts of your applications. “Don’t miss those details,”

advises Pimentel. “Find out exactly what the requirements are.”

Parents: Stay on the Sidelines

The whole family should be part of the college application process,

but parents need to understand how to be most helpful. “Parents

can assist in planning college visits and in preparing the packets for the

applications,” says Borin. “They can find out when college reps will be

in the area so the student can go meet with them.” Parents should

never call admissions offices, nor should they fill out applications for

students or write their essays, says Borin.

“You never want the parent to be more memorable than the

child,” says Oxelson. This will happen if the parent asks all the

questions on the tours, he says. “It’s like watching your child play

soccer. You can bring your child to all the practices, provide the

orange slices, and run up and down the sidelines, but you can’t go

onto the field of play.” And, he adds: “If you get too involved, kids

can resent it.”

The parent’s role is not to push the student toward one college

or another, but to be supportive and encouraging in this important

process. “This is your child’s last year at home,” Borin says. “Make

it a positive experience.”

By Nicole Gregory


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One Response to “Los Angeles Magazine 2010 California College Guide”

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Graduating from high school is a very exciting time for students; however, for those students who are planning on attending college, it is also a time of stress as they work their way through the college admission process. Two ways you can alleviate some of this stress is to make sure you know when to take your college entrance exams, and that you are clear about your chosen school’s admission timetable. As long as students stay organized, understand the college admission process and know the policies of each school they are applying to, finding and starting a university or college can actually be fun!

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