Prince George's County high school students crowded into the community college at Largo last week to go one-on-one with career counselors and college recruiters.
The special career-day program, designed to give junior and senior high school students a chance to take a closer look at their college and career opportunities, was like a basketball game with high school students firing last-second shots toward a small hoop in the not-too-distant future.
Students paused in front of small booths and lobbed sharp questions at college recruiters and career counselors representing more than 100 organizations and businesses ranging from the military to diesel mechanics.
"Does your college have any programs for engineering careers?" "What does the Air Force have for nurses?" "How long does it take to become a legal assistant?" "How much does it cost to go to Morgan State?" The barrage of questions by high school students continued through the day into the evening.
"These high school students aren't just jumping into college; they are asking very specific questions," said Robert Johnson, a counselor representing George Washington University.
Johnson and other college counselors who took part in the day-long career program agreed that college-bound high school students from Prince George's County - as well as those across the country - are unusually concerned about college costs and specific career opportunities.
"In the past, high school students from Prince George's County would go the other way when they found out we did not have a football team . . . It's not that way any more," said Johnson. He added that students from the county are applying to GW in greater numbers than ever before.
"We don't have to act like recruiters anymore - telling students about the university and then trying to get their money. Now we are like counselors, responding to specific student questions and helping them decide whether our university meets their needs>" Johnson added.
Counselors such as Charles Gordon, representing Boston University, said, "Its not like back in the '60s when high school students went to liberal arts colleges to get general educations . . . these kids are asking specific career-related questions."
Local high school officials, along with these college counselors, agree that high school students are expressing an interest in specific careers because of the tight job market and the increasing costs of college.
As students walked from booth to booth talking to representatives from colleges and trade schools, there was unmistakable intensity and concern in their voices. "Without a college education you can't get a job," said one senior from Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
County School Board Member Jo Ann T. Bell, who listened to high school students at the conference complain about the job market, said: "Many of these students have older brothers and sisters who went to colleges for four years and now they see that their brothers and sisters can not get jobs."
The students' questions related to a variety of possible career choices. These choices seemed to be as varied as the number of students attending the conference.
Patrick Geary, 18, of Laurel Senior High School, already has decided on his career: "I love the outdoors and I am going into game and wildlife management." Geary, a senior who said he works in his school's career placement center, said he spent two years there before he found the ideal job.
Surrattsville High School senior Patrick Haley wandered through the Prince George's County Community College corridors last week searching for one thing - a recruiter for the county police force. He had no luck. But Haley said he plans to apply directly to the county police department after high school graduation. He said if he still has no luck he will try the military police.
While many students intently pursue future careers, inside, others stayed outside in the sunshine and joked and threw frisbees. A few of the students, equipped with a transistor radio, danced on the sidewalk.
Nearby, a group of Suitland Senior High School students noticed a reporter and asked him to interview their "spokesman." They selected a surprised Leslie Glenn, who is a 19-year-old senior at the school. The students said they wanted to have an "intelligent spokesman" to tell the public about his career goals.
Glenn, grinning at the possibilities, began by saying, "B-A-S-I-C-A-L-L-Y . . . (prompting shouts of 'Go ahead, Glenn, tell 'em' from his friends) . . . I want to be a cartographer . . ." Glenn's friends - both those who knew and those who didn't know what he meant - were impressed.
Not all high school seniors interviewed at the conference, however, were as happy.
Two Oxon Hill high school seniors - who each took brief tugs on a joint of marijuana while talking to a reporter in the men's room - said they were unhappy with their high school educations. "Nah man, I didn't learn enough . . . I'm going to college to shoot some hoop (basketball)," said one.
Other students said they were generally pleased with their high school educations, but were less than certain about their futures.
Dan Price, 18, a senior at Oxon Hill High School, complained: "Id rather go to school than the Air Force, but I really don't want to go to school . . . I really don't know what I want to do - I guess that's why I came here."
"I want to be a home economist . . . It involves cooking and sewing . . ." said 16-year-old Rita Flaim, a shy junior at Surrattsville Senior High before she appeared puzzled and added, "It's more than that - but I haven't found out yet."
Kelly Keegan, a 17-year-old Central High School senior, was also uncertain about her future. She told a reporter she wanted to become an interior designer "but I keep changing my mind."
As it turned out, "career day" wasn't all business for everyone who attended. Bruce Wood, a 16-year-old from Parkdale Senior High School, who wore a baseball cap that only partially covered his long shaggy-brown hair, elbowed his friends and told a reporter: "Truthfully, I came to get out of class."