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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 4, 2005

College prep 101

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

McKinley High School students Judy Liang, left, and Angie Wong, middle, go over options with college counselor Cynthia Kunimura, right, in the school's college and career counseling room. Colleges look at a student's record from the ninth grade on.

Photos by RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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  • The state Department of Education Web site provides links with information on scholarships and financial aid: http://doe.k12.hi.us/bulletin15/

  • College Connections Hawaii provides tutoring, test-prep classes and college counseling: www.collegeconnections.org

  • The Web site for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid the standard form for applications for financial aid at most colleges has a FAQ section to find out how to apply for aid: www.fafsa.ed.gov

  • The About.com Web site lists 2005 college rankings, scholarship directory and top 10 admissions: http://collegeapps.about.com

  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs is a federal program that helps low-income students to succeed in postsecondary education: http://gearup.hawaii.edu

  • Hobson's College View allows students to do a college search and offers guides to other links, such as "Diversity on Campus:" www.collegeview.com

  • Financial Aid Supersite offers an extensive list of links to colleges, listed in alphabetical order: www.financialaidsupersite.com /college-links.htm/index.htm

  • The College Board site helps students prepare for the SAT with practice tests: www.collegeboard.com/splash

    Source: Transition! Magazine

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    Planning for college can be crazy for students, many of whom juggle school work, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities with researching colleges, applying for schools and scholarships, and taking the SAT. High school counselors offer tips for students on how to stay focused and on track throughout the college preparation process:

  • "Time management is a critical skill for college students, and now is the time to learn it," said Todd Fleming, director of college counseling at Iolani School. Fleming suggests students use some type of personal organization system, such as a calendar or a planner, to keep track of all requirements and due dates. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy," he said. "Just something that the student can note upcoming deadlines in and then actually use by reviewing the next day's, next week's and next month's priorities."

  • Don't procrastinate. "Get the paperwork in early," said Cynthia Kunimura, post high counselor at McKinley. "Find out your high school's and your college's deadlines for paperwork and be early rather than squeezing things in at the deadline."

  • Keep perspective. "Students should remember that, as the past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling Frank Sachs says, 'College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won,' " Fleming said. "There are a couple great fits out their for everyone. Keep an open mind and if you meet your deadlines, you should have some great possibilities."

  • "Don't get so involved with planning for college that you forget to enjoy high school," Kunimura said.

    Zenaida Serrano

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    McKinley High School students Angie Wong, left, and Judy Liang look online for colleges.

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  • Plan to attend a presentation at your school by college admissions representatives; ask your counselor about scheduled visits.

  • Take the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT. It is the best way for juniors to prepare for the SAT.


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


    Pick up your PSAT scores and discuss the results with your college counselor.


    Take the SAT exam, which is administered March through June.


    Take the SAT exam, which is administered through June.


    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, get an internship or take a community college course through the Running Start program. This is your last summer of high school, so make it count.

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  • Stay updated on colleges and careers, testing and scholarships; read newsletters at your college counselor's office, and talk to your counselor about your plans.

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

  • College applications should be completed at least three weeks before the deadlines, which usually fall in this period.


  • Submit the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, by the end of January.

  • Write thank-you letters to teachers and others who wrote evaluations or recommendations for you.


  • You will begin receiving your letters of admission from colleges. Evaluate your choices.

  • Continue working hard in school as all college admissions are granted tentatively with the provision of satisfactory completion of your senior year.

  • Letters of acceptance and financial aid packages from colleges will be sent out at this time. Discuss the choices with your parents and make the big decision together.

  • Respond to colleges before the May 1 deadline.


  • Submit final transcript requests.

    Source: McKinley High School College and Career Center. For details, see your college counselor.

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    As a high school sophomore, Angie Wong already had college on the brain. That's when she started considering her college options. As a junior, she continued her research, while preparing for and taking her PSAT. Now a 16-year-old senior at McKinley High, she's in the middle of applications, and she's grateful she got a head start.

    "I started planning early because I wanted to know what (college prep) classes to take in high school and to see if I had to do any volunteer work, then get those out of the way," she said.

    Angie had the right idea by starting early. College application season is here, and while seniors are consumed by the process, it's time for underclassmen and their parents to start getting ready for the next big step, college counselors say.

    "It's important for all to understand that college planning begins much earlier than junior or senior year," said McKinley counselor Cynthia Kunimura. "From the time students enter high school as freshmen, a strong curriculum of college prep courses with good grades, involvement in extra-curricular activities and sports, as well as leadership positions in any of these activities are important."

    The three key areas of preparation are academics, self-assessment (finding schools that fit students' ability and desires) and financial readiness. The first two matter for students. Parents should be aware of the third issue, said Todd Fleming, director of college counseling at Iolani School.

    Taking on challenging classes and getting good grades count.

    Fleming points out that colleges look at the student's record from the ninth grade onward.

    "College admissions officers look for trends in grades upward or downward as well as what types of courses students are taking," he said. So students should take balanced course loads and seek challenges where appropriate.


    Iolani junior Brandon Ching, 17, is already checking out a variety of Mainland colleges, including his top choice, the University of Utah, which he toured last spring.

    "You should explore what you want and what your parents want," Brandon said. "I think it comes down to what suits you best."

    With more than 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States, students should find schools that fit their requirements, rather than alter themselves to fit the image of a specific school, Fleming suggested.

    Some questions students can ask themselves: Do I want to stay in Hawai'i or go to the Mainland for college? Large, medium or small school? Public or private? Open curriculum or something more structured?

    "The answers to all these questions take time to find, so the student that starts learning about schools now will be better able to make an informed decision later," Fleming said.

    McKinley junior Judy Liang is also in the middle of the self-assessment process. Judy, 16, is considering Mainland and local colleges that specialize in interior design and culinary arts programs her possible majors.

    "It's important to start preparing early because you don't want to start freaking out at the last minute," Judy said. "It would be less stressful when it comes time to make a decision."

    In addition to researching colleges, Judy is trying to stay on track by studying for the PSAT, preparing for a college tour of southern California colleges and maintaining her 3.0 cumulative GPA.

    "When I visit the junior classrooms at McKinley, one of the first things I tell them is that this is the most important year," Kunimura said. "When their applications go in to the colleges in Fall of their senior year, the junior grades will be very important because senior grades will not be posted until possibly January or February."

    Meanwhile, at this point in the school year seniors should be narrowing down their college choices and be aware of what is required on specific college applications.

    "At this time of the year, I'm asking my college-bound seniors to make appointments with me so that we can go over their college options and make sure they're not falling behind in the application process," Kunimura said.

    What's a parent to do?

    Sara Wong, mother of Angie, the McKinley senior, is helping her daughter throughout the decision-making process, but is careful not to put extra pressure on her.

    "She makes her own decisions, but she's very receptive to feedback," said Sara Wong, 44, a billing specialist. "We always talk openly about the pros and cons of these (schools)."

    Kunimura advises parents to be there when their child wants to talk about colleges, but not to push too hard.

    "I feel badly for the child who doesn't know how to tell their parents that they do not want to be a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist because they're afraid of disappointing them," Kunimura said.

    Parents have a tough role in the college preparation process, Fleming said.

    "They must support their students, but not do the work for them; they must engage their students in self assessment, but not tell them where to go; and they must allow their students to do most of this on their own now, while they are still able to help," he said.

    If a parent does too much, the student may have a difficult time once they're on their own at college, Fleming said. It's better to have some stumbles along the way now, when a parent can still help pick them back up.

    "Communication is the most important thing," Sara Wong said.

    It's also crucial for parents and their children to have a conversation early on about the cost of education and how they plan to handle it.

    Parents of high school teens should become familiar with how to apply for financial aid and some of the terminology, Fleming said.

    If a student applies for financial aid, parents will have to fill out forms such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA may not be filed until Jan. 1 of senior year, but parents could start learning about some of the steps in the process now. (See box of Web sites on the cover.)

    Discussing costs and how to pay for school may be stressful, so it's important to keep things in perspective, Fleming said.

    "College is expensive, yes, but it is the most important investment you'll make," he said.

    Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com.