Ann Matturro and her father get into some heated discussions about college these days. He thinks that Matturro, president of her senior class at Gaithersburg High School and an A student, should go to the College of William and Mary.
Matturro is unsure of her chances of being accepted there and is unconvinced by her father's argument. But, she says, there is no other advice advailable. bShe has narrowed her list of colleges to seven, mostly by hearsay, but considers herself lucky.
"Some kids go into this blind," Matturro said.
College lies ahead for 75 percent of Montgomery County's high school seniors, who are already starting to fill out applications. Whether they are National Merit semifinalists and shooting for Harvard or Yale, or average students looking for an ideal place to spend the next four years, most are finding themselves overwhelmed by the amount and disparity of advice from parents, counselors, friends and admissions offices.
"It's a period of tension. In a society like Montgomery County's, where expectations are that the student will go on to a private college, it's kind of a burden on them," said Betty Edelson, whose experience with her first two children led her to write a book, "The College Connection, How to Help Yourself into College."
"If they don't know how to go about it, the more they turn away from it, the more parents hassle them, and a bad situation develops. Schools try to present information, but it's not easy as it might be," she said.
Norman Schwartz was concerned about his first child getting good advice. He paid more than $100 for her to go to a private consultant.
"There was a roomful of people who looked totally overwhelmed," said his wife, Sandy, who went to the consultant's introductory meeting.
"Kids want individual attention and are distrustful of parental advice. They come away from the consultant with the feeling that someone has talked to them," she said.
Debbie Schwartz, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, was reassured after her initial meeting with consultant Zola Schneider. "The problem was, I didn't know anything about my schools," said Schwartz. "Guidance counselors give you a huge list of colleges. They aren't individual. I want them to say after talking with you, this is the school that would be good for you."
Many of the county's graduates go to the University of Maryland or Montgomery College -- 3,500 out of the 9,000 graduates in 1979 did so.
The rest apply to as many colleges as they have the stamina to fill out the forms for, and hope for the best. They are being told that because the declining birth rate has resulted in fewwer high school students, schools are looking hard to fill their freshman classes. They hear that among the 3,131 two- and four-year institutions in the United States, there are many places to get a good education.
But with the cost of a college education skyrocketing, there is another phenomenon, which Brown University's director of admissions calls "educational consumerism," that is making some schools more difficult to get into than ["TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE"]
"Parents are saying that if it's going to cost $10,000 a year, they are going to think very carefully about where they want to send their child," said James H. Rogers of Brown. "In such a circumstance, a father says, 'I will pay for you to go to such-and-such institution, but I'm not sure I'll pay for you to go to some place less well known.' Social aspects are coming into play more and more."
Brown University last year had 12,000 applications, up from 9,000 three years ago. The school accepts 2,400 to fill a freshman class of 1,325.
About 21 percent of Montgomery County high school seniors go to schools rated by a major college guide as "selective" to "most selective." The most selective schools would be Ivy League schools, Seven Sisters and major Midwestern and Western institutions.
The competition to get into top colleges is particularly fierce in the wealthy communities that send their children to Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Walt Whitman high schools in Bethesda, Winston Churchhill High School in Potomac and Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.
"I have a strong feeling that they should be looking at other places," said Marti Phillips Patrick, a former senior high counselor at Bethesda-Chevy Chase. "But there is a strong elitism. They're not willing to look at schools in the Midwest. There's a real push from parents, and a lack of information. B-CC had good materials prepared, but it's up to the students to come and use them."
Simon Smith, a senior at Gaithersburg High School, thinks more guidance counselors would be part of the answer.
"There are only four to deal with 1,400 students. And we need to have more levels, some for the sharp people and some for our kind of people, who plan to go to college and want to go to a good college," he said.
"If you have four counselors dealing with 400 seniors, each students becomes the same to them. They look at your SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) and say, 'These are the schools you can look at.'"
Students also worry that their counselors don't keep up-to-date.
"One guidance counselor was giving us information from 1960. I said, 'Isn't that kind of old?' and he said, 'Yeah, but the schools are still the same,'" Smith said.
The 107 senior high guidance counselors are supplemented by career information centers in each high school, where students go to hear college representatives, read about the job market and sign up for exams.
College representatives are visiting schools daily in the county. Walt Whitman will have had 400 representatives talk to its students by Christmas. Sherwood will have 25 to 35.
John Keating, head guidance counselor at Whitman, said the phenomenon of multiple applications is "just blowing up."
"It used to be that four to five applications were a lot. Now, many students are filling out over 10 -- a few over 20," he said. a
At $10 to $20 an application, it is an expensive and time-consuming process.
"My parents tell me, 'Just apply everywhere, don't worry about your SAT,'" said a Gaithersburg student.
The high number of Montgomery County applications in some college admission offices is legendary.
"One year Harvard had 65 applications from Walt Whitman alone," said William Malone, who is in charge of interviewing Harvard applicants in the Washington area.
He said Harvard typically gets about 550 applications every year from the Washington area, and accepts 55 to 65 of them.
Asked whether a large number of applications from one georgraphic area hurts a student's chances of being admitted, Rogers said, "It's a natural reaction that people have who live in an area that supplies many applications. It's the same in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. While I don't think it's fair to say there's no truth in it, there certainly is less than parents and students would have you believe."
Keating said he tries to discourage students' all applying to the same schools.
"In every available form we preach that doctrine, but it doesn't do any good. Students are keyed into their own interests. There's a feeling that not everybody will get in, but I will," he said.
"Some are defeating themselves. I perceive the situation of competing against themselves rather than the wider applicant pool. If not so many Whitman students applied to so many of the same schools, all their chances would be better."
Keating said some students who aim for the top colleges are pushed by their parents. "In this area, people have gone to the top colleges and are oriented in that direction. This is the dream, the Walt Whitman dream. It ends up in a lot of happiness for some and a lot of disappointment for others."
Rogers emphasized that applications are evaluated without a quota for geographical areas. The applications are, however, grouped by school to compare teacher, guidance counselor or headmaster comments and get an idea of where a student stands.
"When we start we don't know how many we can accept. But we know that Walt Whitman, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Walter Johnson -- that Montgomery County schools are really very good, so we've usually accepted more students than from the overall pool."
But, Rogers said, some of the decision were easy because the applications were unrealistic. "You have to look at the kind of community in Montgomery County -- educationally oriented, upwardly mobile, affluent. In such a community, parents are trying to achieve the best for their child and will quite often shoot over the child's ability."
Miriam Sonsini, career technician at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, said she didn't see more than a handful of students there who had applied to more than five or six schools. And, she noted, an increasing number of students are staying in the state.
Leah Cutler, head of the guidance department at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, said the composition of school population makes the job different in the various schools. "I came from Kennedy High School, where there is much more homogeneity in the college-bound population.Here it is much more individual."
About 600 parents and students recently attended a college fair night at Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, to talk with representatives of 24 colleges and universities. Walt Whitman will have another fair Oct. 29 with Walter Johnson, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Einstein high schools. Einstein is in Kensington. They expect as many as 2,000 persons to attend, to talk with 70 college representatives.
The annual Washington National College Fair will begin the following day at the D.C. National Armory.