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CAMPUS AND CAREER GUIDE | Q&A / With College Counselor
Audrey Smith : What's Next?

Counselor Says Education After High School Can Be Key to Opening Doors to a Better Life

July 21, 1996|Audrey Smith

Audrey Smith has been a college counselor at Marshall High School since 1981. Her school was among those bucking a trend in Los Angeles County toward declining college enrollments. A recent state report indicated that nearly 70% of Marshall's 600 graduating seniors went to college in 1994--up almost 6% in two years--even though one-third of the school's 3,700 students are not native English speakers, one-quarter come from families on welfare, and the average scores for those who take college entrance tests are below those required by most competitive four-year colleges and universities. Nonetheless, Smith prods every senior to have a post-graduation plan that includes education--either college or vocational training.

Smith spoke with Times education writer Amy Pyle, offering advice for high school students, recent graduates and their parents.

Q:

In a time when California state university and college enrollment is dropping among Los Angeles County graduates, Marshall has experienced an increase. What's the secret to your success?

A:

We saturate students with information, for one thing. We have a peer college counseling program, where seniors are trained by me on SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) applications and other things. . . . Then they summon the kids in, do an initial interview with them and we put it all on the computer. If they mention a community college, Trade Tech for instance, we bring them back in when we have that representative on campus. I also go to their English classes and I talk to them. I have a monthly update I send out to them on what's happening and a scholarship bulletin.

Q:

How much can a student count on his or her high school counselor to help in the college application process? What can or should they do on their own?

A:

They can get all the assistance they need, but they have to have the initiative. We have 700 students in the senior class and I'm the only college counselor. That's one reason I have the peer college counselors. They can get the help if they want it, but they can't depend on somebody saying, "You didn't do this, you didn't do that." If they have questions, they have to come and ask. I give them as much information as I can in bulletins, but they have to read the bulletins.

Q:

How early do students need to begin thinking seriously about college?

A:

It's important to start early because they're deciding whether to take a foreign language [and other required courses] and, if they decide not to, they're closing a door to the universities. We talk to the ninth-graders. We have a class for them called educational and career planning that's required in Los Angeles Unified.

Financial aid is the other reason to start early. They should know in kindergarten that no matter what their parents' financial situation is, they can go to college. The rumor is, they have to work a couple years first, and that's not a good idea.

Q:

What's the best way for them to start researching their options? Where should they look? Who should they talk to? What should they ask?

A:

I got a computer software program called College View into every school computer I could. It's interactive multimedia and then when you've narrowed down the choices, you can take a tour of the campus. They can also go to their local library and there are all kinds of references there.

They should also be visiting college campuses, as a family. In Los Angeles we are so fortunate to be so close to so many top colleges and universities, and community colleges are right in everybody's neighborhoods.

They have to decide what it is that they want in a college, what it is they're looking for, what would make them feel comfortable. That's why visiting is so important. They should not be looking toward what they want to do the rest of their lives, because they will change their minds; they should be looking for where they feel comfortable. It might be ethnic makeup, it might be socioeconomic levels. . . .

I try to get people from the colleges to come here as much as possible. At Marshall, we don't organize groups to visit colleges because we don't have any funds for school buses. The only place we go is Cal State L.A. because they send a bus for us, and Mount St. Marys. Glendale Community College is wonderful. They do the math and English testing they require here and they send somebody once a week to talk to the kids. Usually more than 100 seniors go there.

Q:

When do they need to start narrowing down their selection group?

A:

Before the beginning of their senior year, because they have to start applying then. . . . It's a lot of work and it's a lot of money if they haven't narrowed [their choices] down. You have to pay to apply, a nonrefundable application fee. There are 22 California State University campuses and you have to fill out a separate application for each one.

Q:

What about the SAT exams? Should everyone take them?

A:

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