During his high school career, Nicholas Sotelo, 17, developed a passion for drama and acting. Now that he's graduating, the Tokay High School senior is hoping to turn that passion into a career, and he's found five colleges to help.
All Sotelo has to do now is fill out his applications. But for many high school seniors, including Sotelo, that's not so easy. The Friday deadline to apply at many schools is less than a week away, but seniors will face challenges between the time they start those applications and the time they hit "submit."
Pat Drouin, counselor at Tokay High, said seniors often don't start their college applications, most of which are due Friday, because doing so means acknowledging that their time in high school is almost finished.
"Because it's the next step, they hesitate," Drouin said.
Drouin knows of at least one senior who has his entire application filled out but has yet to submit it, claiming that it's not ready.
Melody Knee, a career center technician at Tokay High, has helped students apply to college for nearly 11 years.
She said one of the biggest fears that students have is picking a major. They're afraid that once they check that box, they'll be locked into a major, and eventually a career, that might not be what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
Some of the students Knee advises are on a path, and that's fine, she said. But the idea of making a life-changing decision at 17 or 18 years old terrifies other students.
Knee said she tries to assure students that they'll eventually find their niche.
"They have to make all these decisions now and they feel a lot of pressure," said Becky Jauregui, Lodi High School's college and career center technician.
Representatives at a recent college application workshop, Jauregui said, quelled students' fears about picking a major by saying that the number of undeclared students on campus outweighed the amount of students enrolled in any single major.
Other students, Knee said, face more concrete challenges when applying to college, like how they're going to pay for it all.
"Funding is always an issue, where it comes from and will it be enough," Knee said.
Knee acknowledges that paying for college can be stressful, but tells her students that government assistance, scholarships and student loans present ample opportunity to fund their college careers.
Many schools, Knee said, even offer work study programs, where students can work at flexible jobs on campus that help pay their school expenses.
- Don't procrastinate.
- Do a rough draft of your essay.
- Have a couple of people check your essay, but make sure it's your own.
- Get a transcript to make sure the information you're entering into your applications is correct.
- Make sure to submit your application before the deadline.
- Don't wait until the last day. University systems are often overloaded by last minute applicants. Those who are unable to access the jammed Web sites may miss their deadline.
- After your application is in, start concentrating on financial aid.
Source: Becky Jauregui, Melody Knee
A number of the students Knee advises aren't citizens, and therefore, don't qualify for state or federal financial aid.
Knee said these students can often find private scholarships that will help fund their education.
Students who don't have computer access at home also face a special set of challenges.
Because nearly all college applications are online, Knee said, students must have access to a computer if they're going to apply to schools.
But Knee doesn't feel that lack of access to the Web at home hinders these students. Those who don't have Internet access can use the school's computers to work on their applications either during lunch or after school, Knee said.
The Lodi Public Library also allows students to use its computers free of charge.
Other students, Jauregui said, hesitate to apply to a four-year college because they're afraid they won't be accepted.
They figure if they're not going to be accepted, why even try, Jauregui said.
"We're working very hard on that - getting that perception to go away," Jauregui said.
Jauregui feels that it's always better to apply to a four-year college, even if a student might not go to one right out of high school.
Often students don't realize their full potential, Jauregui said, and getting accepted to a four-year college can be a real confidence booster.
Still other seniors are so busy with after school activities, senior projects and school work that the thought of adding another task to their plates almost seems unbearable.
Sotelo said he tries to balance his jammed schedule, which includes an after-school job and helping out around the house, with filling out scholarship applications.
Because each scholarship has its own qualifications and submission requirements - such as writing individual essays - applying for them can easily eat up the little personal time that he has.
Sotelo's happy to fill out the applications, though, if it means his parents will have more resources to contribute to his younger siblings' education.
Sotelo, who is the second eldest out of six children, said he will be the first in his family to go to a four-year college if he gets accepted.
He worries that if he doesn't get in, he won't be able to set an example for his younger siblings.
A combination of fear, senioritis and procrastination can keep many students from filling out their applications until the last second, Drouin said. Students who do that, though, might encounter a university Web site jammed with 11th-hour applicants.
Such a situation could cause a student to miss the application deadline, Drouin said.
Because of that risk, Drouin and other Tokay High staff members encourage students to fill out their applications early by pestering them in the hallways, visiting classrooms and giving gentle reminders whenever they get the chance.
At Lodi High more than 100 seniors and parents have subscribed to Jauregui's e-mail list, where she can inform them about upcoming deadlines.
"Often the kids say, 'I don't know why I didn't do that earlier. It was so easy,'" Drouin said.