College isn’t for everyone, but if higher education is a life goal then it’s never too early to start investigating the possibilities, just as it’s never too late to try.
Students in Pasadena Unified School District who are headed for college can easily get help on financial aid applications through any number of workshops offered by the district, according to Dr. Marisa Sarian, PUSD’s assistant superintendent of instruction.
“Community partners help students with their applications, but students have to take the initiative to participate,” Sarian urges.
A student’s relationship with her or his financial aid office, however, shouldn’t end once their classes are funded, says Ray Quirolgico, associate provost for student affairs and dean of students at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.
“Students tend to forget other new opportunities,” says Quirolgico. “There might be a scholarship that wasn’t available to you when you first applied” and currently is, “now that you’ve achieved some milestone,” such as completing x-number of semesters or getting a certain GPA.
As far as Patty Hernandez, director of academic advising at ArtCenter, is concerned, once students are accepted, and money needed to continue is not an immediate priority, they must focus and organize their schedules, thoughts and time.
“Any student considering coming to ArtCenter must learn how to manage their time.” Hernandez advises. “If they can start practicing early on that, they will become self-aware of how they are using their time,” and thus, “make better plans for school and life.”
At the fast-paced and art-focused environs of ArtCenter, Hernandez believes one should particularly prepare by practicing expressing themselves through presentation skills — “how to describe what it is you’re working on and what message you’re trying to convey.”
For other colleges with less-focused curriculums and more diverse programs, Cal State LA Associated Vice President of Undergraduate Studies Michelle Hawley feels “college is tough, but doable.” In college, you may have too many choices.” That’s why she says, “Students should choose the major they feel passionate about and they can do many things with.” But, Hawley points out, “Many college students don’t graduate in four years because more than 50 percent of students change their majors.” And sometimes not just once or twice, but three times.
Such was the case with Kaitlan Ragland of La Crescenta, who starts her fourth year at Cal State LA this fall as a television and film media studies major. With a father who is the manager of the digital sound department at Walt Disney Studios and a mother who freelances as a manager on TV reality shows, her major might seem a natural choice.
“They definitely had an influence on my aspirations,” Ragland says.
But, she adds, her original major was art history. Midway through her second year, Ragland got a wakeup call during a lecture. The professor told her class that “If you’re not going to study three different languages, not willing to travel all over the world, and not willing to do a master’s program or a doctoral program, then art history was not the right field.”
Ragland already knew from high school that languages were never her strong suit, but she had a backup plan, and this fall she has a technical sound internship at the Alex Theater.
Hawley says students should start working with the campus career center from the beginning of their first year. If like most students they wait until junior or senior year, Hawley said, “You have missed some wonderful opportunities.”
Ragland said her mother changed her major three times and attended three different colleges, but that was a different time. PUSD’s Sarian notes students today have to be “truly mindful,” because if they change majors too many times, they can run out of financial aid. She agreed that internships and volunteer work can help students focus on career goals.
Kaitlin Terpstra-Sweeney, manager of prospective student engagement at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, also agreed.
“Take a minute before college and grad school,” Terpstra-Sweeney says. Fuller accepts graduate students in theology, psychology and intercultural studies. “Try out an internship or a job in the context that you think you might work in. It can be helpful and surprising.”
Because Ragland is a local, she isn’t troubled by homesickness like students who find themselves in a different city, state or country. Such students need to hit the ground running, joining clubs or volunteering, all of the college representatives agreed.
Terpstra-Sweeney mentioned one relatively new avenue for learning: online courses. Fuller, Cal State LA, Pasadena City College and USC (graduate level only) all have online courses. All of the institutions, including ArtCenter, have study abroad programs.
Terpstra-Sweeney found her study abroad in Italy “an incredibly shaping and a really rich experience.” Plus, study or working abroad is a good way to “get out of our own heads and out of our own social spheres,” she says.
The college reps urged all students to take advantage of orientation programs — even at the graduate level. All of those interviewed also felt that, as Hawley put it, “Learning takes place inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”