The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
While some students stress about which path they may take after high school, guidance counselors are busy reminding them that myriad paths to success remain even if they will not be attending their college or university of choice.
As the calendar turns to April, students who have been accepted into the University of California and California State University systems will have one month to announce their intent to enroll.
But should a student not get accepted to their school of choice, or be stressing over which to attend, local school counselors are attempting to provide a healthier perspective on life after high school.
“We are not going to fall all over ourselves endorsing the frenzy that your life is over if you didn’t get into UCLA,” said Alice Kleeman, college advisor at Menlo-Atherton High School.
Kleeman said it is important to start coaching students early that the university they attend will not ultimately define them.
“If I felt there were only 20, 30 or 40 colleges worth going to, I wouldn’t be doing this job. It would be ridiculous,” she said. “You are going to get hear yeses and nos, but that is just life.”
She said high school should not solely been seen as a period of time when students mold their college resume, but also as an opportunity to shape their interests and personality, which should guide the decision regarding where they elect to attend.
Francisco Negri, head guidance counselor at Woodside High School, echoed those sentiments.
He said when deciding where to enroll, students should focus less on name recognition, and more on whether a school offers the type of programming that interests them and grants the clearest path to graduation in a field about which they are passionate.
“The message for students is to choose a program that meets their needs, rather than go where their friends are going, or pick a school just because it has a good name,” he said.
In the case in which a student does not get accepted into their school of choice, or is not afforded the opportunity to choose between preferred options, Negri said it is important to consider attending a community college.
He said community colleges offer students a low-cost opportunity to complete general education requirements, while getting another crack at applying to their school of choice.
“Students can rewrite their script and put their best foot forward coming out of community college,” he said.
He likened the path of a student who uses the opportunity granted by community college to gain acceptance to their school of choice to the commute from the Peninsula to San Francisco — there are a variety of routes, some more circuitous than others, but they all lead to the same destination.
“Community college is a good route, and an absolute avenue for students to get into the school that they want,” he said.
Suzanne Poma, counselor and transfer center coordinator at Skyline College in San Bruno, agreed, and added attending a community college can offer a student more time to grow their field of interest before committing to a major at a university.
She said Skyline offers programs to many students who may not have succeeded in high school because of prohibitive life circumstances, such as family or job requirements, and community college can provide them another opportunity to refocus on their education.
“Sometimes a student may get a new sense of belonging and confidence that they may not have had during high school,” she said.
Alex Guiriba, a counselor and recruiter at College of San Mateo, concurred and also noted the threshold for gaining acceptance to the University of California system is lower out of community college than it is high school.
“By going the transfer route … it makes accessing these schools a lot easier,” he said.
Beverley Madden, spokeswoman for College of San Mateo, said many students do not realize the opportunities afforded to them by the community college system, because of the stigma attached to attending a school other than four-year university out of high school.
She said it is important to educate students, but also, and especially, parents about alternatives in higher education.
Kleeman said parents need to acknowledge the role they can play in influencing their student’s notions about which school they attend.
She encouraged parents to be supportive, regardless of which course their student takes through school, and reminded them not to cast aspersions on taking the route less traveled.
“I think we need to think about the words that come out of our mouths before we speak,” she said.
It is also important though for parents to remind their students that successes as well as failures are part of building character, she said.
“Too many adults are saying ‘oh, you poor thing,’ but I’m not going to go there,” she said. “I’m sympathetic to a degree, but excited about the rest of the positive options out there.”