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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 3, 2005

Striving to succeed

 •  College application calendar — what to expect and when

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was 9:30 p.m., and Kelli Miura was just finishing a busy holiday shift at her part-time sales job; before that, the McKinley High senior had a full day of classes.

Kelli Miura, 17, a McKinley High School senior, juggles several activities, including homework, writing for the school newspaper, a part-time job and applying for college scholarships.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Her body begged her to surrender to sleep when she got home, but her mind rushed with ideas for an English paper due the next day. Miura ended up working on it until 2 a.m., only to start all over again at 6.

Such is life for Miura, a teen who juggles school, extracurricular activities, a part-time job, and applying for scholarships — all while trying to maintain a 3.4 GPA. On a more typical day, she'll get more sleep — but she still spends five or six hours a night on homework.

"At times it's been really, really stressful," said Miura, 17. "It's like living in two different worlds: living in present time, but at present, you're trying to prepare for the future."

Miura joins thousands of high school student strivers who balance classes and homework with school clubs, sports, volunteer work and part-time jobs, among other things. Carrying such a load can be quite overwhelming, so experts say the key to success is setting priorities.

Students should take on only what can be handled and handled well, said Cynthia Kunimura, post-high counselor at McKinley High.

"Kids are tempted to join 25 clubs and a sport in every season, in addition to five (advanced placement) classes with the hopes that they'll impress colleges or scholarship organizations," Kunimura said. "I've seen that backfire too often. My counsel to kids is get involved in one or two things they enjoy, and commit to them for the long run."

Basketball is a big deal for Maryknoll School junior Tyler Tsukazaki, 17, a member of the school's varsity basketball and volleyball teams. Yet while sports are priorities for Tsukazaki, they don't come first.

"My parents and Maryknoll have really enforced that maintaining good grades and how well you do in school matters more than how well you do on the basketball court, because college is the most important thing," said Tsukazaki, who has two AP classes and a 3.7 GPA.

Tsukazaki's father, Matt, shares this philosophy with all his children, ranging from a 5th-grader to a college sophomore.

"It's consistent with the four kids," said Matt Tsukazaki, 45, of Salt Lake. "My wife and I support all of their activities ... but it is always tempered with why they are in school and the need to address their academics first."

Instilling such values should begin at an early age, said Matt Tsukazaki, an attorney.

"You have to have consistency ... school year after school year after school year," he said.

Setting goals

Tyler Tsukazaki
Tyler Tsukazaki, who is also student body senate vice president at Maryknoll, advises students to set goals, then balance their schoolwork with extracurricular activities, such as sports.

"But also be realistic about the time you have to achieve these goals," he said.

For Miura, dealing with everything she has on her plate requires focus. She follows the advice a former clarinet teacher and mentor gave her years ago: "Whatever you have to do, don't spend time worrying about (it), just do it and do it right."

Students who choose to participate in activities outside of school — whether it's a job or team sport — end up having to make some sacrifices.

That's what Matt Tsukazaki tells his three boys, all of whom are athletes and often spend hours each day at practice or games.

Take control of your schedule

Are you a student juggling homework with extracurricular clubs, sports, a part-time job or more? Here are some tips on how to cope with your workload:

• Use a calendar or planner to note important dates, project deadlines and social activities. "One of the biggest challenges for teens is organizing their lives," said Cynthia Kunimura, post-high counselor at McKinley High School. "They want to do it all and sometimes forget that there are only 24 hours in a day."

• Look at all things from a year-round perspective. "This allows a student to live in the real world and also to assign specific tasks to downtime, such as vacations," said Ann Hannan, college counselor at Maryknoll School, and seniors can use "less stressful" months to focus on college applications and community service projects.

• To avoid feeling overwhelmed with everything going on in your life — an exam, upcoming project, soccer practice, band performance, etc. — focus on the immediate task or activity before you. "Be in the present," said Betsey Gunderson, high school principal at Maryknoll School. ... "Don't worry about homework during an extracurricular activity. If you plan for a break, then be in the moment of the break."

• Think before you act. "Kids are faced with choices every day," Kunimura said. "I like to tell them that the choices they make today can impact on their entire lives, whether these choices are friends, activities, colleges, etc. Therefore, make choices wisely."

Source: McKinley High School College and Career Center

"If you devote this much time to this particular activity of interest to you, part of it is understanding you have to sacrifice other things," he said. "Like, you can't go to the beach as much as you want."

Miura wanted a temporary job over the holidays to pay for some college expenses, and that meant missing out on family functions.

"I couldn't spend Christmas Eve with my family," Miura said. "I also had to work the day after Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day."

To pursue her journalism interest, Miura gave up her summer and winter breaks to intern for a local magazine, the first year without pay.

Miura puts things in perspective by looking at the bigger picture.

"I live by the rule 'Everything is equal to you,' " she said. "This basically means whatever you do is what you get back. It's purely based on effort, so don't expect more than what you give in life."

Time consumers

What takes up the most time for students is tackling homework and studying.

When Miura gets home from school at 4 p.m., "it's straight to hitting the books and studying," she said. "Depending on how big the load of assignments is, I'm usually in bed by 11."

The amount of time a student needs to study varies with the kind of classes a student is enrolled in and, naturally, the ability of the student, Kunimura said.

"A student who is in four advanced-placement classes would definitely be spending more time than a student with English, social studies and four electives," she said.

A rule of thumb for Maryknoll students is about 45 minutes to an hour of homework for each core class and no more than 30 minutes for elective classes, said Betsey Gunderson, high school principal at Maryknoll School. This pertains to homework that is relevant and meaningful — such as reading or practicing a skill learned in class that day — "not just busy work," she said.

Another major time consumer for high school seniors is the college application process, which typically lasts from fall to spring of the academic school year. The process is often the biggest cause of stress for students.

Miura's advice to other seniors: "Apply early."

Miura got a head start and applied for colleges in August and was accepted by three schools in October, when many seniors only begin to request college applications. Miura will be attending the University of Oregon in the fall.

"When I applied, I didn't have a lot of homework and wasn't stressed," she said. "I did it at a time when I did have ample time to finish it."

Advice for parents

While parents are encouraged to offer support and guidance to their ever-so-busy young, it's often best to step back, Kunimura said.

"It's tempting to want to control your children's lives and to (interfere) when things don't go smoothly," Kunimura said. "Learn to step back a little, as this is the time when you're training your little ones to make those all-important decisions that can have huge effects on their lives."

But when students begin to take on too much, resulting in dropping grades or behavioral changes, parents need to get involved.

"(Parents) should feel comfortable calling the counselor or school," Kunimura said. "It might very well be that the counselor or teacher is also noticing signs that could indicate trouble. Working together with the school is an excellent strategy."

Ann Hannan, college counselor at Maryknoll, suggests parents and students work with counselors to develop an academic plan. "So many students are swayed, and this is because they don't have a plan," Hannan said.

Together, the three parties should set reasonable goals that include reaches, such as community service learning, sport teams and cultural activities.

"Parents help when they see the whole picture and support the student, making the student's goals primary," Hannan said. "We too often see as parents our goals before our child's."

Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8174.

• • •

College application calendar — what to expect and when

Key academic dates for juniors and seniors. For details, see your college counselor:


• If you're a senior, register for the October, November or December SAT, ACT, TOEFL (TEST of English as a Foreign Language, for ESL students) or SAT II (if needed). Also, this is the time to request college applications and begin working on them.

• The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, is the best way for juniors to prepare for the SAT and is administered in October.


• The annual College and Career Fair at the Blaisdell Center is a great way to investigate different colleges and universities, as well as careers.


• Seniors should submit the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, by the end of January (free workshops are held throughout the year).


• If you're a junior, take the SAT exam, which is administered March through June.

• Respond to colleges before the May 1 deadline.


• Graduation.


• For juniors, this is the time to narrow down your college choices and gather information through the Internet about each college. Also, do something constructive during the summer break: Get a job, take a summer course, volunteer, intern, or take a community college course through the Running Start program. This is your last summer of high school, so make it count.

Source: McKinley High School College and Career Center