Students and Parents Are Determined Despite Rising College Tuition Costs

With University of California and Cal State college applications due at the end of November, students are scrambling to pick colleges, take last minute SATs, and fill out application forms. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

They were on the lookout for scholarships and financial aid at the City of Commerce’s sixth annual college fair.

Los Angeles, Ca.- More than 700 people descended on Commerce this past weekend with one mission in mind – getting to college in one piece.

The annual Commerce to College Fair attracted motivated middle-schoolers, as well as people over the age of 40 looking to brush up on their professional skills. But the often complicated, expensive and stressful process of getting to college was felt the most by students in their junior or senior year of high school.

These college-bound students will be working through holiday festivities and regular schoolwork, either studying for their SATs and ACTs, or working on essays and applications for University of California and Cal State schools, due November 30, and for private colleges, due in January.

High school senior Rebecca Espinoza said the magnitude of the college application process only just hit her this year. “It’s really stressful, because it’s all happening so fast,” she said.

While the SATs turned out to be a breeze, she has six colleges in mind and is scrambling to find a part-time job so she can pay for all of the application fees to her top choices.

But Espinoza, who attends Schurr High School, admits that teachers and school counselors started drilling the idea of college into students early. “They actually make you worry about it in middle school. They’re like ‘COLLEGE!’ And we’re like ‘OKAY!’” she says.

Twelve-year old Joanna Leon was among those at the college fair who are still at least three years away from applying. She says she is “excited” about the prospect of going to college to accomplish her goal of becoming a teacher. “I might change some lives of students,” she says.

This is Leon’s second trip to the college fair. She says it is a good opportunity for her to get her questions answered and find out about the different programs offered.

For some college fair goers, starting early could not only help them find the perfect college, it could affect whether they will be able to pay for it.

Adriana Garcias, 45, says her son is “getting good grades,” which should give him a better shot at finding scholarships or grants, but even if it does become difficult, “you just have to stay positive, because if you start thinking about the prices, you won’t get anywhere.”

The financial aid workshops were especially helpful, according to parent Nancy Ballardo. In her own experience, college loans ultimately become too much of a burden, so she is encouraging her daughter to seek out as many scholarships as possible.

Eighteen-year old Katie Herrera said because of her family’s financial obligations, she feels she must find other ways to pay for college. “It’s harder when you’re not the only child and you have other family members you have to support,” she says.

In addition to the helpful information on a variety of colleges, Herrera says she was also able to pick up a flyer about a year-long paid public service internship program that could help her pay her college tuition.

Gabby Gonzalez, the first in her family to graduate from college, said many people choose between work or education. But doing both is “definitely possible,” she says. “I did it, but it’s much more stressful, so I definitely think money has a lot to do with people not going to college.”

Gonzalez was at the college fair to help her younger brothers through the process. She was less aware of her options when she first applied to college, and “now that I have the experience, it’s time to share it with my brothers,” she says.

In addition to giving advice, she says she keeps in touch with a network of friends who are always on the lookout for scholarships to help their younger siblings pay for their post-secondary education.

There were also some at the fair who were not stressing out about the college application process, but rather looking forward to beginning a new chapter in their lives.

Twenty-two-year old Robert Aguirre says he graduated three years ago and has been laid off twice from factory jobs. While high school counselors had mentioned college to him, he said he never wanted to go. “I didn’t know what I would do in college,” he said.

He says he has now figured out what he wants to do and is looking to enter the criminal justice field.
This is the sixth year the City of Commerce holds the college fair as part of a joint effort between the library staff and the city’s education commission, according to Commerce Library’s head librarian, Evelyn Fullmore.

The free event featured thirty-four representatives from various colleges, workshops on financial aid; opportunities for undocumented students; information for adults interested in attending college; information about scholarships including Commerce’s own city sponsored scholarship; speeches from successful college graduates and local public officials, as well as free lunch and refreshments, totebags, t-shirts and raffle giveaways of school supplies and iPod nanos.

“It is important for local families to have access to college information,” Fullmore said.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

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