California high school students with their sights set on a public university better step up their game, admissions officers and guidance counselors say. An unprecedented time of upheaval and funding cuts in the state university systems will leave less room for narrowly missed deadlines, poor senior-year grades and incomplete course work.
The game, itself, is changing.
The 23-campus California State University system plans to cut enrollment by 40,000 over the next year, while the University of California recently adopted new admissions standards that will affect freshmen entering in 2012, or this year's high-school sophomores.
Large cuts in higher-education funding have also led to rising student fees and fewer resources and services for college students. In other words, even after they secure their spot at a school, students might find it harder to enroll in the courses they need.
Patricia Brands, a veteran college counselor at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, said students and their families will need to "take a little more personal responsibility" in light of the new reality. They should pay close attention to quarter grades, she said, and not wait until the end of the semester to seek out tutoring or extra help.
Brands will also tell her students to be ready to apply to schools as early as late October or early November, and to be sure to take the SAT or ACT as 11th-graders.
Jim Blackburn, Cal State's enrollment-management
"If a student has not applied by Thanksgiving dinner, they and their mom and dad should probably be concerned," he said.
Blackburn also said high-school students must be sure they are clear on the 15 courses required for Cal State entrance because the cuts will force the university to adhere strictly to admissions requirements.
Students aiming for UC schools should keep many of the same guidelines in mind, said Sue Wilbur, who directs undergraduate admissions for the 10-campus system.
Most or all the UC undergraduate campuses will adhere strictly to a Nov. 30 application deadline, Wilbur said. Students should be sure to apply to at least two or three campuses, she said, including a "safety school" where they are likely to be accepted.
"Berkeley should not be your backup school," Wilbur said.
After applying, students should keep a careful eye on their e-mail inbox for acknowledgments and important notices, she said.
Regardless of whether the university decides to limit admissions next year, this year's seniors need to work hard to get into the campus of their choice, she said.
"Bottom line is: Take the most challenging course load you are prepared to take," she said. "Senior year matters, so make sure you don't ease off."
Blackburn also cautioned seniors not to coast through their final year of high school.
"This would be the worst year to have senioritis since the draft," he said.