Sunday, 12 September 1999

The hard questions

Jim Davis,
The Arizona Daily Star

Veronica Reyna, with mother Lori, talks about colleges and senior-year preparations with Pueblo High School guidance counselor Armando Ronquillo

Counselor helps teen plot a course for college, career

By RuthAnn Hogue
The Arizona Daily Star
Veronica Reyna knows that obtaining a college education is the surest way to achieve success in the 21st century.
That's why she's set a goal to graduate from Pueblo High School this spring and to attend the University of Arizona next fall.
She's still a bit fuzzy about the details, though, so a Pueblo High School guidance counselor, Armando Ronquillo, agreed to meet with Veronica and her mother, Lori Reyna. Her Big Sister from the ``I Can Be What I Have Seen'' career mentoring program sat in on the session, too.
Ronquillo began by asking Veronica where she plans to be this time next year.
``At the UA,'' Veronica said.
``Why?'' Ronquillo quizzed.
``Because I don't want to go outside of Tucson,'' Veronica said.
``Why?'' Ronquillo persisted.
``Because I just don't want to leave,'' she said.

Knowing ``why''

No matter how Veronica had responded, Ronquillo said, he would have pressed her for details.
That's because students who know why they are attending a particular school - beyond it being the choice of a family member or friends - have the best chance for success, he said.
It's a scenario Ronquillo said he has seen played out with college freshmen again and again.
``Those who studied were the ones who knew why they went there,'' he said.
Students who were at risk of dropping out usually had one thing in common.
``I'd ask them, `Why did you come?' '' Ronquillo said. ``They'd say they came for someone else's reasons, not their own.''

The right fit

So how does one choose a school with the best ``fit''?
The first step, Ronquillo said, is to select from a menu of schools instead of zeroing in on the one closest to home.
``The final decision is obviously up to you, but if you know what the differences are, it will help,'' Ronquillo said. ``Do you know what the UA is?''
``What do you mean?'' Veronica asked.
``It's a school, but it's also a major research institution,'' Ronquillo said, going on to explain the three categories in higher education.
Small liberal arts colleges, for example, put the least amount of emphasis on research, a bit more emphasis on community service and their greatest emphasis on teaching.
At the other end of the spectrum are schools such as Harvard and Stanford, where research is the main focus, community service is a midlevel priority and teaching is at the bottom of the list.
The UA is set up to emphasize research, community service and teaching equally.
``A teaching institution, such as a small college, is the best place to send a child,'' Ronquillo said.
That, however, depends on the needs of the student.
``Someone who is assertive will be OK at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) or the UA,'' he said.
``If you just say `OK' if I say `No' to you, you don't belong there. If you are the type of person who needs a little extra nurturing, a liberal arts college is the best place to be.''

Planning ahead

While some liberal arts colleges might seem expensive at first glance, Ronquillo stressed that tuition need not be the determining factor. Scholarships are often available, and they may cover all or most expenses. It's all a matter of finding out what is available, applying for everything - and doing it early.
``I wish I had talked to you last spring so you could have spent your summer doing research,'' Ronquillo told Veronica.
Ronquillo encouraged Veronica to participate in several programs offered at Pueblo during the school year allowing seniors to visit the UA, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University. Students will be invited to visit some of the smaller schools as well.
If she goes, ``what should she be looking for?'' Lori Reyna asked.
Ronquillo answered with a question for Veronica.
``How old are you?''
``17,'' she said.
``Where do you want to be in one year, five years or 10 years?''
``I don't know,'' she said.
``Always know 10 years ahead so you're not caught by surprise,'' Ronquillo suggested.
By age 27, Ronquillo offered, Veronica should be at least three or four years into a career, and maybe married.
``But marriage should not be your career,'' he said.
Ronquillo pointed to a chart on his chalkboard showing that college graduates who marry between the ages of 24 and 27 have the best chances for financial success. As a bonus, the offspring from such unions have been shown to be less likely to drop out of school themselves.
``What it's really saying is . . . the couple has had their fun and gotten an education out of the way, and now they are ready to focus on their family,'' he said.
Lori Reyna reminded Ronquillo that Veronica ``wants to go to college and get an education and make a nice living.'' She just isn't sure what she wants to study.
Ronquillo said that's not uncommon among high school seniors, and not to worry. The first 18 months of college offer the chance to sample various fields while taking general studies courses.
The exception to the rule is engineering, in which students need to start a specific program of study from the beginning.
``Remember, education generally starts very big and narrows down the further you go,'' he said.
One thing high school seniors do need to keep in mind - regardless of study plans - are the timetables and deadlines for college testing programs (See accompanying chart), college applications and scholarship requests.
``There is a lot to be done,'' he said.
In that regard, Veronica said, she is prepared. She's registered to take a college entrance exam in about six weeks. And she plans to take Pueblo High School up on its offer to visit some of the state's other campuses, to see what they are like.
``It couldn't hurt,'' she said.