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College Applicants Face Tough Climate

California’s universities started accepting applications for next fall this month. And school districts across San Diego County are holding college fairs this week and next to help students get ready.

— College fairs in Poway, Grossmont and at Hoover High School this week are a normal part of college application season, but budget cutting at California’s public universities and community colleges means fewer seats for new students.

The weak economy means families have less money to send those students to school, making public schools a more attractive option. That means this year students face an admissions environment that is only getting more competitive.

Linda Doughty, director of the California Student Access and Opportunity Program (Cal-SOAP), said she is seeing a renewed focus on college readiness in local school districts, which means many students are more prepared for the increasingly challenging college application process.

“Students are starting to really think about: 'What do I want to be?' You can’t go into college and just say, 'I’m so happy to be here.’ anymore," she said. "I think you’re getting to the point where students are beginning to realize they need to have thought a little more carefully about what they want to do.”

Students and their parents can get help with doing that careful thinking at Cal-SOAP's free college fair Wednesday, Oct. 26.

This week Sweetwater Union High School District added the A through G courses for University of California and California State University admissions to their high school graduation requirements. San Diego Unified did the same last spring.

"We’re also talking to students as early as ninth grade – you know A through G’s, the students are understanding that they’re talking about the college curriculum more and the types of classes they need to take,” Doughty said.

Cal-SOAP has even started working with students and families as early as middle school on preparing financially and academically for college, she said.

Reality Changers is a group that helps low-income students get into college. Founder and President Christopher Yanov says even if districts are focused on making sure students take A through G course, he still sees individual schools struggling.

"The high school counselors are more and more overwhelmed because there are fewer of them," he said. "The students can’t get as much help and families can’t afford overpriced private counselors, so they're kind of getting squeezed on both ends."

Reality Changers helped about 51 low-income high school seniors with their college applications last year, according to Yanov. He said that this year they've boosted that number to 140 students.

In addition to providing free help to more low-income students, Yanov's group is providing low-cost classes for any San Diego County students that focus on the University of California application.

"We've stepped up our game, because the competition is getting steeper and the economy's not helping either," he said.

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