Going to college? Better get to work | SierraSun.com

Going to college? Better get to work

After spending a few hours at my child’s high school college night last week I was sure of one thing: I am glad I don’t have to get into college now.

I snuck through North Tahoe High School and into Cal State University, Chico, with a barely passing grade in that second year of math. Now those going to four-year colleges are taking four years of math and four years of English, and I heard something about getting A’s being a good idea.

Our students are taking honors classes and advanced placement courses. I was a yearbook photographer and enjoyed Tahoeology class. Now kids take PSAT (Pre-SAT) tests and attend courses to figure out how to do better on the SAT. I refuse to divulge my SAT score on the grounds my daughter would laugh at me.

Ah, the good old days, when the toughest part of getting into college was filling out the application.

One piece of good news for our hard-working students is that Tahoe-Truckee schools have focused on preparing kids for college. In 2006, 43 percent of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District graduating seniors had completed the required courses to attend California State University and University of California campuses.

For the county and state on the other hand, only 35 percent of the students had taken the required courses. Forty-six percent of the TTUSD students had taken the SAT test, while only 36 percent of the state and county students had done so.

Once our kids meet the requirements for attending a four-year college, they have two major choices when it comes to public universities in California: A UC school or a CSU school.

The University of California has nine major campuses, with UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA being the best known. UC’s are the cream of the crop of public universities. You will find Nobel prize winners, world-renowned professors and many of the smartest kids in the state at these schools. The application process is very competitive and once you get there, you will be working hard.

For many this might be just what they are looking for. Others may find it too competitive and overwhelming. Also important to consider is that many professors at the UCs are busy doing research and writing books, so many undergraduate courses may be taught by assistants and Ph.D. candidates instead.

The California State University system now has 23 campuses. Some of those close to Lake Tahoe include Chico, Monterey Bay, Sacramento State, Sonoma State and Humboldt. The State Universities provide an excellent well-rounded education, but are a little less competitive than some of the UC campuses. You will find fewer Nobel prize winners, but more professors teaching your classes.

For many students, community colleges are an excellent alternative. The professor’s only focus is on teaching, so you have the potential to receive excellent instruction. Many community colleges have automatic transfer agreements with four-year colleges and universities, so if you get good grades and finish your two years at the community college, you can transfer to the four-year university. This allows for a much lower total cost of education.

There are also a number of private colleges and universities throughout the state. The most prestigious include Stanford, Pepperdine, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount. Many private schools are located on beautiful campuses and provide a top-notch education. They tend to be quite a bit more expensive than the public universities, but in general also provide more financial aid.

In other words, no single college experience is perfect for everyone. Tour the campuses, talk to friends, talk to your high school counselor (who is also a resource for the entire community), find out what works for you financially and pick the place that strikes your fancy. I spent five wonderful undergraduate years at CSU Chico, (hey tuition back then was $105 a semester, what’s the hurry?) and then spent two years in grad school at Cornell University.

Each college had its unique advantages. I really enjoyed Chico and felt I got a first-rate education. Cornell was a chance to experience the drama and prestige of an Ivy League campus. I had great teachers and classes at both schools, and several less-than-stellar teachers and courses at both schools.

While the push to get into college is quite intense, there is also pressure by many to attend the “best” school. Sure, in certain fields a Harvard degree may open some doors, but in most cases you get the education you seek, and many find an excellent education at a school that may not be considered the “best.”

It is also important to realize that in our rapidly changing world, many people change careers a number of times. It is not a degree you need, but the set of skills necessary to be successful in life. A degree from one school or another will not decide your future. You will.

So my advice for potential college students is: Find your good school, and once you are there, have a good time.

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