Today's secretary has an image problem, says Helga Tarver, president of Tele Sec Temporary Services. To "improve the image and attract more people to the profession," Tele Sec sponsored a competition for senior secretarial science students at several public colleges. The boxed excerpts below are from the scholarship-winning essays on "Why I Chose a Secretarial Career."

Alma M. Rohlfs, 55, P.G. Community College

"After many years of devoting my life to the care and needs of a growing family, I am now free to pursue a new life of my own. It has always been my goal to have a career in the secretarial field.

"Not only will it be a rewarding experience for me, but I feel as a mature woman I have an extra dimension of experience that will be of great benefit to any organization for which I finally become employed.

"A career in the secretarial field will enable me to get into the mainstream of life. I enjoy people and as a secretary I'll be dealing with a wide range. Working in an office and using my skills to the best of my ability will give me a sense of pride and accomplishment. This is very important to me.

"All in all, I feel the secretarial field is right for me. It will meet my needs of getting into the business world and performing an essential service, and it will also fulfill an inner sense of well-being, knowing that I have become a useful, independent individual in our society."

Laura A. Harris, 27, N. Va. Community College:

"A few years ago my main ambition was to be a housewife . . . That did not work out as planned. I arrived back in college at the age of 25, and -- like most divorced women -- was a bit unsure of myself and my skills.

"I always assumed that a secretary was a bored woman who hid her fingernail polish or magazine whenever the boss came around. But through friends I became aware of what a secretary's responsibilities should include.

With the pace a secretary keeps in the office, everyone depends on her for good job performance. An efficient secretary will know about her company so that she can make the best qualified decisions. I have grown to realize this is a career field and not just an ordinary job.

"At the present time, I am working part time for a small commercial construction company. I find my jobs varied and interesting. I feel very useful to my employers.

"This is the first time I have actually looked forward to going to work. Oh, this isn't to say that there aren't times that I dread the tedious work . . . In spite of this, I am still very excited about starting the day.

Sheila L. Mason, 22, University of the District of Columbia

"I know the secretarial field will fulfill my needs as a career. I feel the secretaries of the world run the office more than their bosses. Many people associate the secretarial field with typing, shorthand and filing and nothing more. But it takes a lot more.

"I can say from experience that working in an office is not easy. Hard work, continued education and lots of room for advancement are some of the things that pulled me toward the secretarial field. Never knowing what to expect in a day's work and the constant challenge makes it ideal for me.

"There is one thing I learned about employment: Education comes before experience and knowledge wins out. Receiving an associates degree at the University of the District of Columbia will show all employers that I am not only looking for a job, but seeking a career.

"When I graduate, I will be looking for a job that I can contribute my time and work to. It will have to show me a challenge and be able to hold my interest. I want to take part in making office decisions and show my boss that the office will continue to run efficiently when he is absent."