William Wigfall, a junior at Cardozo High School in Northwest Washington, has his heart set on going to a military academy after high school. At a military school, he says, he can develop skills and his family would not have to worry about titution since military cadets pay none.
When Wigfall walked into the D.C. Armory yesterday for the annual "College Day" program, he headed for the table with information about West Point. But he was soon walking away from the table dejected
"[The recruiter] said they like all their students to have A averages [in high school]. I've only had a B or C average," Wigfall said. "I just walked away 'cause I know that ain't my category."
Like many others among the 4,000 junior and senior high school students who attended College Day, Wigfall received a brusque awakening to what some colleges expect of their prospective students.
For students in the D.C. public high schools, where the ratio of guidance conselors to students is 1 to 250, College Day is the major program to acquaint them with the academic offerings and requirements of various colleges throughout the country.
About 130 schools and 4,000 students participate in College Day each year. The program, sponsored by the D.C. school system and the federal Educational Opportunity Center, is also open to private and parochial schools in the area.
Some of the colleges that send representatives are looking to recruit minorities. But recruiters said they find many public school students ill-prepared in math, science and foreign languages. In addition, recruiters say, many students by the 11th grade have not taken the kinds of courses in high school that will prepare them for what they want to major in in college.
"I had a kid come to me today and say the only math he had [in high school] was algebra -- and he wanted to go into engineering," said Calvin Jamison, a representative from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Jamison said he believes career and college counseling for students should begin as early as the eight grade. "If it weren't for a program like [College Day], a lot of students would be lost," Jamison said.
From time to time, the Educational Opportunity Center holds workshops for parents and students on how to choose a college and a career, how to apply for financial aid and how to apply to a college. But these sessions are held only in schools in the Anacostia or Shaw regions of the city.
Currently, D.C. public schools require the fewest courses in the area for high school graduation. Yesterday, the educational operations committee of the D.C. school board passed a proposal that would increase the number of required courses in math, science, social science and foreign languages.
If the proposal is approved by the full school board, the District will then have the stiffest requirements for high school graduation of any area school system.
Most of the students were just as interested in knowing about the financial aid programs at the various colleges as in knowing how to prepare themselves for college. Tuition, room and board at some of the colleges represented ranged between $6,000 and $8,000 a year.
"The first thing I think about is cost.If [schools] don't offer a lot of their students financial aid, I don't think about them at all," said Bobbi Alexander, a junior at Eastern. She was one of 109 students who signed up to receive an application form from West Point.
But West Point rcruiter Lt. Herman Bulls said that probably only two of the students who signed up will have a chance of getting into the academy. He said low scores on the college entrance examinations as well as a lack of math and science courses prevent many District students from being accepted at West Point.
Many of the students expressed an interest in the fields of engineering, accounting and computer science and said they want to go to schools with strong programs in these areas so they can be asured of getting jobs in their fields after graduation.
But just as important, many students said, is that the college have a "friendly atmosphere" and interesting extracurricular activities.