College-bound teens tour campuses
NINETEEN SONOMA TEENS toured college campuses in Southern California over spring break.
Lorna Sheridan/Special to the Index-Tribune
Francisco Chavez just wanted to see Venice Beach. What he ended up seeing was his future ... and a more ambitious one than he had ever envisioned for himself.
Recently, after an eight-hour drive, 19 Sonoma teens piled out of two white Boys & Girls Club vans in front of the admissions office of UCLA for a guided tour, and the first step toward a truly educated decision about their future. It is an unfortunate fact of life that most Sonoma students heading off to four-year colleges are unable to tour all the universities on their list before applying. That makes a confusing and anxiety-ridden process even more so, since their college will be their home for the next four years and it represents an investment that could exceed $200,000.
This first Spring Break College Tour was organized by Robin Eurgubian, the club's teen director, who said it had a big impact. "This trip proved to us that if you expose students to a range of possibilities, their energy changes," Eurgubian said. "They start believing that they can achieve, or do better, or create a goal for themselves. We had a handful of students who started the trip wishy-washy about college. I can say with confidence, they returned home determined to try go to college."
Chavez, a ninth grader at Sonoma Valley High School, would be the first person in his family to graduate from high school. "I just wanted to go to L.A. College hadn't really crossed my mind before this trip," he says. "But I loved UCLA and Northridge and we talked a lot about what it would take to get to go to a school like that. And I'm now serious about my GPA and working harder in class."
While the schools visited may not become the actual colleges of choice for these teens, the tour provided them with the chance to visit each of the primary categories of four-year colleges that Sonoma students typically consider: Large UC school, medium-sized CSU, small private college and small religious college.
According to "Peterson's College Guide," "You don't need to tour every school, but you should see enough campuses to know that you are generally on the right track with your list and not making false assumptions or missing interesting possibilities." While it's not common practice here, experts suggest that families build tours into any family vacations, from the middle school years onward, if attending college is an academic goal.
Thanks to an Impact 100 grant and the recent hiring of Eurgubian, the club as been instrumental in jump-starting college conversations among its teens, most of whom would be the first in their family to attend college. Last summer, Eurgubian brought dozens of teens to six different colleges as part of a new program that paired fun destinations such as the Oakland Zoo, with tours of nearby colleges such as Berkeley and Sacramento State.
The L.A. tour was open to every club member in high school who is active in the club's College Bound Program. It was offered free of charge, and included transportation, lodging and meals. This year's participants were: 12th-graders Jeanette Acevedo, Jeremiah Zelaya, Isabel Garcia and Tony La; 11th-graders Kamryn Barker, Diana Baron, Gemma Bolanos, Anelyn Burquez, Dalia Caballero, Ely Hernandez, Yara Morales, Kayla Wilson and Isreal Rivas; 10th-grader Angel Rosas; and ninth-graders Chavez, Jessica Hernandez, Daniel Hernandez, Itzel Santiago Macedonio and Rafael Maldonado, all students at Sonoma Valley High School.
The group had a jam-packed itinerary, with the goal of seeing as much of L.A. as possible between tours, and they gathered for a sit-down family-type meal every night to compare notes. While the first day was spent traveling and checking into the UCLA Tiverton House, on the second day they toured UCLA and nearby Whittier College, and explored Santa Monica. The students loved the energy of UCLA and weren't scared off by the size of the school, reacting favorably to its 40,000 students and large campus at the base of the Santa Monica mountains.
Whittier College, located 30 miles east of UCLA, provided a dramatically different tableau with only 1,660 students. The school's team mascot is the "Poets," providing a telling sign of the school's emphasis on academics. The small size, however, was less appealing to the group, although it provided a good counter-point to the UC campus.
Almost half the group had never been to L.A. or had only seen the Disneyland area. On the third day, the group visited Hollywood and Beverly Hills before touring Pepperdine University in Malibu. While it was the most expensive college on the tour, Pepperdine is known for generous financial aid, making it comparable to UC tuition.
Overlooking the ocean, Pepperdine's 7,700 students enjoy what is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful college campuses on the West Coast. Said Diana Baron, "I am definitely applying to UCLA and Pepperdine. They have amazing campuses and the majors I want."
On the final day, the group squeezed in a tour of CSU Northridge, with 32,000 students, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. Isabel Garcia applied to Whittier and Northridge and had planned to attend Whittier if accepted. But after visiting both, she said, "This trip gave me the opportunity to compare the schools. Now that I have been able to visit CSUN, I know it is the right campus for me. It feels like home."
Whether or not these students apply to these colleges, they now have a better sense of how a large campus feels compared to a small one. They know first-hand what impact a school's architecture, its class sizes or its setting can have on their impressions of it. And those kinds of insights will help them to make more informed decisions as they build their college lists. And those ninth- and tenth-grade students, for whom the bulk of their high school career still looms ahead, have now seen the carrot at the end of the stick. If they're college-bound, this trip may have provided them with exactly the inspiration they need to do the hard work required to fulfill their dreams.