Special Report

Frank Worrell is a professor and the director of the School Psychology Program in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. His research interests include academic talent development, at-risk youths, ethnic and racial identity, and psychosocial development.

Q: When should I start thinking about college?

A: The best answer to this question: now. College is one more step on your academic journey that began when you entered preschool or kindergarten. There are many things you need to know and do to be eligible for college and be successful there, including taking the prerequisite courses, learning how to study independently, and believing in your potential to earn a degree.

Q: What are the most important factors related to getting into college?

A: Getting into college requires demonstrating that you have the academic potential it takes to succeed. Both the Cal State and University of California systems require that students take specific sets of courses to be eligible for admission. These requirements are referred to as the "A to G" courses, and each letter represents an area of study. In some cases, Cal State and UC have identical requirements — for instance, both systems require four years of English in high school and one year of visual/performing arts. In other cases, the systems differ. For example, UC recommends four years of mathematics, whereas only three years are required by Cal State. Universities also pay attention to sustained involvement and leadership in other activities such as sports, academic clubs and other hobbies. It is often better to be involved in one activity for several years and obtain a leadership position than to be involved in a different activity each year.

Q: What are the most important factors related to succeeding in college?

A: One of the most important is self-efficacy — that is, believing that you belong and can succeed in college. A second factor is self-regulation. Although students spend less time in classes, the workload in college is greater than in high school, and the onus is on the student to complete work and turn it in. There are seldom opportunities for extra credit. A third factor is persistence. When work is difficult, it is important to keep trying and not give up. Although it is not always obvious, other students are experiencing difficulties similar to yours. A fourth factor: being willing to ask for help when needed. Take advantage of professors' office hours, go to the review sessions with the teaching assistants, team with students to form study groups, and visit the academic assistance centers.

Q: What do many students and families wish they had known sooner?

A: Students and families often wish they had known about the "A to G" requirements and availability of financial aid. Students, in particular, often wish they knew more about active learning strategies and forming and using study groups well. These are useful skills to develop in middle and high school.

Q: How will the latest round of higher-education cuts in California affect my chances of getting into college?

A: The recent round of higher-education cuts may make it more difficult to get into the most competitive public universities. However, there are many state universities that are under-enrolled, so you should not allow these cuts to interfere with getting into college. If you take the correct courses and work hard, you will still have the opportunity to get into a college.

Q: No one in my family has gone to college. How can they help me?

A: Your family can help by believing in you and supporting your desire to go to college. They can provide you with the opportunity and space to study, and your parents can and should help you structure your activities so you get your academic work done. Your parents can also take you to college information fairs. At these fairs, which are held around the state, admissions officers provide information about getting into college and financing your education.

Q: My high school guidance counselor is overwhelmed (or nonexistent). Who can help me get the courses I need?

A: All high schools in California have a list of the courses they offer that are approved as meeting the "A to G" requirements. You should get this list of courses from your counselor or principal at the beginning of your freshman year so that you can monitor your progress, even if your counselor is not doing so. Some of these courses can also be taken at a community college, but you must ensure that any community college course that you take is transferable to Cal State or the University of California. You can also find a lot of helpful information on the UC Berkeley Web site at collegetools.berkeley.edu. This Web site has a variety of resources in English and Spanish for you, your parents and for schools.