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FAMILY | FOR THE KIDS

Course of Action

The time to start academic preparations for college is now.

September 04, 1997|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kids, today is the day to start your college career--even if you're only in the eighth or ninth grade.

Even though the school year has just started, Jan Livingston, college counselor at Birmingham High in Van Nuys, urges students--including ninth-graders--to make an appointment to see her right away--to find out what courses are college-related.

"I know kids are not ready to think about it," she says. "We yell at them and wave neon flags [about college], but these four years of high school are it in determining where and whether they go on to college."

Even kids in eighth grade, she says, should make an appointment this week--with assistant principals at junior highs and middle schools--to get prepared this year for next year, when they will need to enroll in the tougher ninth-grade courses that college admissions people like to see on kids' records.

Livingston has put out a call for for even elementary school-age youths to attend the huge college orientation fair that Birmingham is staging at 7 p.m. Oct. 9. The event, involving 100 exhibits and college representatives, is also open to students at every middle and high school, public or private, in the Valley.

Parents, too, have a role to play this week. He says, "They should volunteer to go with their children to see the high school counselor or middle school assistant principal as soon as school opens to discuss appropriate courses."

Tom Piernik, a Cal State Northridge official who oversees that campus' Presidential Scholars program--to recruit high-achieving high school students--stresses the importance of starting college-appropriate courses early in high school. For instance, "In order to have Algebra II on your record, you have to have first enrolled in and done well in Algebra I," he says.

College admissions and financial aid officials, he points out, are always on the lookout for a consistent pattern in students' high school course work. It's not just good grades that matter, but indications that the student understands how to put together a sequence of courses pointing toward a goal, he advises.

Of the 80 students who applied for Presidential Scholarships last hear, all had good grades. But the 16 who were awarded full tuition for four years demonstrated commitment and an ability to plan.

Thinking ahead about college is particularly important when it comes to college-entrance exams. Livingston points out that the crucial Scholastic Assessment Test, usually taken in the fall of one's junior year, requires that kids be academically prepared for the test by the end of the sophomore year.

And students who want to enter the competition for a National Merit Scholarship award at graduation time must take the test, called the PSAT, in their sophomore year. This fall the test will be given Oct. 14 and 18.

Another program, open to high school seniors, allows extra time--until winter vacation--for students to send in applications. The state of California's Cal Grant program considers grades, plus the family's income in awarding money for college. But to qualify, a student must sustain better than 3.0 grade-point average beginning as a freshman in high school.

BE THERE

Students and their parents should attend the college fair from 7-9 p.m. Oct. 9 at Birmingham High School, 17000 Haynes St., Van Nuys.

Sophomores should ask their counselors for the PSAT Student Bulletin and make arrangements to take the PSAT test Oct. 14 or 18 if they want to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship upon graduation.

Seniors may request information on the Cal Grant program by calling the California Student Aid Commission, (916) 445-0880.

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