|Top: Oakland Tech students learn about UC from a campus representative. Above: This pair of students shows where their college sights are set. More photos.
By Nicole Freeling
In his first two years of high school, Oakland Technical High School student Austin Lau didn't pay much attention to his studies. But toward the middle of his junior year, the future began to loom large. He thought about the opportunities open to him that were never possible for his parents, immigrants from China and Vietnam, who never had the chance to go to college.
"My father just had to work, he didn't get to choose what he wanted to do," Lau said, "I can decide what interests me, and actually have the chance to study it."
Lau, now a promising student and a member of Oakland Tech's leadership group, hopes to attend a four-year university. Still, with no one in his family to guide him, the process of applying for college has been confusing. He has struggled with issues like knowing when to take the SAT, and was recently caught off guard by an approaching deadline for submitting college applications.
On Thursday (Oct. 18), Lau and his classmates had the opportunity to meet with UC leaders, ask questions and get first-hand advice on applying to the University of California.
Aiming for higher education
The visit was part of Achieve UC, a systemwide effort that brought UC leaders and admissions counselors into high schools around the state. In all, about 10,000 students were encouraged to aim for college, and were offered practical guidance on getting there.
The event targeted schools with below-average levels of parental education. Students in such schools often face a gap in what educators call "college knowledge." They may not understand financial aid, the application process, or the options available to them. Most important, students often lack confidence in their own abilities.
Campus/UCOP participation in Achieve UC:
Oct. 18: UCOP, Oakland Tech; Davis, Luther Burbank, Sacramento; Irvine, Valley High, Santa Ana; Merced, Merced High; Riverside, Perris High, Perris; San Diego, Gompers Prep Academy and Southwest High, San Diego; Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools, Santa Barbara/Goleta; Santa Cruz, Harbor High
Oct. 22: UCLA, Crenshaw High, Crenshaw
Nov. 2: Berkeley, Lincoln High, San Jose
Peter Taylor, UC's chief financial officer, attended the Oakland Tech event with the goal of helping students look in the mirror and see someone who is college material. Getting a University of California education is not about background or connections, but having the dedication to learn, the ambition to push oneself and the courage to dream big. "There's a place for you at UC," he said.
A panel of UC leaders, addressing students from Oakland Tech's leadership group, also offered pragmatic advice. "We have robust financial aid programs to help you and your family pay for college," Taylor said. "We have programs in place to help you get from here to a great education at a top-tier research institution."
In recent years, four out of five students from Oakland Tech who applied were admitted to at least one UC campus. Panelists explained that there are other, equally valid paths to college, such as transferring from a community college, as a third of UC students do.
"We'd love to have you as a freshman," said Walter Robinson, UC Davis director of undergraduate admissions. "But if it's not a good fit as a freshman, we want you as a junior. We want you as a transfer."
This one-day event isn't the only way UC is helping high school students go to college. The university has a rich history of partnership with Oakland Tech. UC guidance counselors helped expand and equip the school's college center, and they are on hand daily to help students stay on track with coursework, apply for scholarships and learn about opportunities for higher education. Similar partnerships occur at schools around California.
"If I didn't come here, I wouldn't be applying to college," said senior Norma Yanez, a frequent center visitor who, with help from UC, has applied to a number of universities and hopes to be the first in her family to earn a bachelor's degree. "I didn't really know the requirements and what classes I needed. I don't think I could've figured it all out on my own."
The central event of the day was a college fair on the front plaza, open to all of Oakland Tech's 1,600 students. There, teenagers perused information from each of UC's nine undergraduate campuses.
Senior Taujanè Moss said she hadn't realized how much the system had to offer. "I was just thinking about UCLA but I realized there are lots of other great UCs I might be interested in."
At another table, students received individualized transcripts showing them exactly which courses they needed to be eligible for admission to one of California's public university systems. UC advisors met with students and parents to talk through where each student was on their path to college.
"The students see all these campuses here, and it reverberates through the whole school," said Oakland Tech Principal Sheilagh Andujar. "It really impresses upon our students the opportunities that are available to them."