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HIGH LIFE : College Quest : Students May Burn Midnight Oil Finding Right School

September 08, 1989|MONICA NEAL | Monica Neal, a regular contributor to High Life, is a 1989 graduate of Orange High. She presently attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she is studying communications and political science.


This word alone can cause restless days and sleepless nights for many teen-agers, especially when used with such words as application, essay and interview.

It is September, so seniors had better act quickly, and even underclassmen had better start planning, since choosing a college isn't an overnight activity.

For those wondering about what's available, the library is the place to start. Through such books as "Peterson's Guide to Four-Year Colleges" and "The College Handbook," students can gain a better understanding of what they may want out of their next two to four years.

"Start by looking at yourself," the Peterson book says. "What are your strengths and weaknesses, your goals, your strong likes and dislikes and your needs?

"Only when you can understand what kinds of features you want in a college will you be able to make judgments about which colleges would be right for you."

Some factors to be taken into consideration when choosing a college include the school's size, its student-to-teacher ratio, whether its professors or its teachers' aides actually teach the majority of classes, and, for those socially involved students, the amount of Greek life (sororities and fraternities) and its male-female ratio.

"It's a good idea to come up with some prerequisites when choosing a college," said Jennifer Brunson, 18, a 1989 graduate of Corona del Mar High School and a freshman at UC Berkeley.

"I knew I was going to stay in science, so I knew to stay away from purely liberal arts colleges," she said. "I wanted to go to a well-known college that had a large campus and was near a big city, and I wanted to stay near a coast. I also wanted the campus to have some sort of social life.

Brunson applied to Stanford, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC San Diego, UC Irvine and Berkeley before deciding upon the last.

By now, however, most seniors have some idea as to where they are planning to apply; the question is how ?

The books mentioned also list the addresses of the colleges' admissions offices and sometimes the dean's name. This is the time when initiative comes in handy.

It is important that seniors send out letters showing an interest in their desired colleges.

Many colleges, after receiving last year's Pre-Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, will send out unsolicited recruitment information and sometimes even applications. But for students with high goals--such as the Ivy League or even most University of California schools--Mohammed will have to go to the mountain, because it will rarely come to him.

A letter of intent doesn't have to be anything special--a student can simply include his name and address--and the school will send an application. However, students should expect to wait because many colleges are already being swamped with similar requests.

That doesn't mean college preparation should go on the back burner. As an example, the UC application, which is used for all UC schools, doesn't usually arrive at high schools until October, but it is due back postmarked by Nov. 30.

"One thing to remember is that the end of November is no worse than the first of November, as far as the applications are concerned," said James Dunning, dean of admissions at UC Irvine. "Students should take advantage of the entire month to complete the application in order to make sure it is done well."

This will leave the applicant little enough time to ask his school's registrar for the information needed to fill out the form, without worrying about . . . The Essay.

Ah, the essay . Another fear-provoking word, especially when an entire college career may rest on how well it is written. But take heart. There are a few simple tips to help students avoid writer's block.

Students should write about something important to them, not what they think an admissions officer will like. A firsthand experience is good, such as a comic incident from which a valuable lesson was learned.

"In writing your essay, be yourself," suggests Brian Hudson, 17, a 1989 graduate of Brea-Olinda High and a freshman at Stanford. "Write what you are thinking about and what you are feeling. And be honest, because that shows you are an individual.

"Otherwise, the college gets 10,000 essays all saying, 'I'm a great leader and I like sports and everything,' and they don't know who you really are."

Don't send in a first draft. Make sure the essay is completely proofread for any mistakes. Some admissions officers have been known to throw out applications with too many errors and typos.

Finally, get the essay done as quickly as possible, long before the deadline. That way it can be put aside and the writer will still have time to contemplate exactly what point he or she was trying to make and to rewrite, if necessary.

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