Published: Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
Four years of grinding study, sleepless nights and countless
hours of extracurricular activities earned Alyssa Black a 3.96 grade
point average at Santa Rosa High and a solid shot at her dream
school: UC Berkeley.
Like thousands of Sonoma County seniors, Black's moment of
reckoning came when she sat down in front of her computer and logged
into Cal's Web site announcing admissions.
The news wasn't good.
"When you see, 'Sorry, we regret to tell you blah, blah,
blah,' you get crushed and all logic goes out the window,"
Alyssa's mom, Kay Black, said. "They take it personally and
Long an anxious time, acceptance season this year marked just how
hard it is to get into college these days.
Applications to UC campuses hit an all-time high and Ivy League
schools are hearing from, and rejecting more, students than ever.
"This is a huge, huge, tough year," said Sophear Hang,
a counselor at Montgomery High School. "Many of my seniors have
already come to me about appealing to the campuses that they thought
they would get in but did not."
Lexy Cook, Healdsburg High's student body president, carried a
4.3 grade point average into the application process, but was turned
down by her dream school: Princeton.
"For me, the hardest part was realizing that I couldn't have
worked any harder than I did," she said. "It was hard to
know that having the best grades you can, doing as much as you can
outside of school, and having pretty good test scores isn't enough
because there are thousands of people just like you."
Of the more than 21,300 people who applied to Princeton this
year, only 2,000 --
9.3 percent -- were accepted.
Cook has narrowed her options to Cornell, Cal and Purdue, where
she was offered a $7,000-a-year scholarship.
Meanwhile, she is seeking solace among friends at Healdsburg
"Most of us got rejected from our big schools," she
said. "It was kind of a rough year for us. We are all kind of
in it together."
They are not alone.
In Sonoma County, nearly one-fifth of the anticipated 5,000
graduates hope to attend a UC or CSU campus. Hundreds more likely
will go to private or out-of-state institutions where the cost of a
four-year education can reach $200,000. And by far the most, almost
half, will enroll at Santa Rosa Junior College.
The college goal is increasingly encouraged throughout the
educational system -- resulting in a senior-year endurance test that
began with applications early in October and did not end until the
final decisions made by elite private schools last week.
"I think this has been the most difficult year to get into
UCs that I have ever seen," said Lorraine Collins, an
independent college counselor who for years ran the career center at
Maria Carrillo High School.
The pain of not getting into Berkeley caused Alyssa Black to
question her entire time in high school. For a fleeting moment she
assumed that her heavy extracurricular schedule -- choir, karate,
dance, violin -- had hurt her GPA and cost her her shot.
"My mom asked me, 'Would I change anything in my high school
career?' and I said 'No,' " she said. "Would I have given
that up just to get better grades and a better SAT score? No. The
right school chooses you for what you did in high school," she
"I chose to do extracurriculars that I love, that are time
consuming. I chose to be the student who doesn't just study and who
does one extracurricular. The school that chose me, Davis, saw
Black expects she will attend UC Davis in the fall but plans to
check out Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine this month just in case.
Counselors urge students to be mindful that more than one campus
may be a good fit.
Those disappointed by rejections from a top UC campus may fall in
love with the academics and lifestyle offered within the CSU system.
"There are a lot of wonderful students who applied to
Berkeley and didn't get in," said Karen White, an independent
college counselor who spent 15 years as a counselor at Healdsburg
High, 10 years as department chairwoman.
"A student may be devastated not to go to a school of their
choice, but they visit a second choice and love it," she said.
"It tends to work out."
Last fall, the average GPA for freshmen admitted to Cal was 4.17,
with a combined SAT score of 1359 for critical reading and math.
More than 44,000 students applied, and 23 percent were admitted.
At UCLA, which had more than 50,000 applications, the average GPA
for this year's freshman class was 4.12 with a 1346 SAT score.
At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the average GPA for incoming
freshmen was 3.71 with an SAT score of 1183. At Sonoma State, it was
3.13 with 1017 on the SAT.
The test scores for students accepted this spring are expected to
be even higher, but the universities will not have figures compiled
until later this month.
Montgomery High senior Elba Mendoza said she dreams of a career
in cinematography and can't wait to take film classes, but Santa
Rosa Junior College is the right fit for her next fall.
"For me, I don't think the 100 or 300-student classes -- I
don't think I'm ready for that," she said. "I might still
need more one on one attention from the teacher."
Analy High's Jake Williams said he wakes up every day thinking
something new about where he will be next fall.
Accepted to his dream school, the University of Oregon, Williams
is burdened by the $30,600 a year price tag for tuition and living
expenses for out of state students. He also is considering attending
San Francisco State and the JC.
"I would really like the whole four-year experience,"
he said, adding that he sees the practicality of getting his general
education requirements done at the JC where he can explore careers
and classes while keeping expenses down.
"I'm all over the place. One minute it will be architecture
or electrical engineering or construction management," he said.
"It's going to come down to me trying to get a gist of what I
want to do with my life."
Even among those who go away to college, many come back to SRJC,
said K.C. Greaney, director of institutional information.
"Approximately 20 percent of regional high school graduates
who initially enroll at another college or university return to SRJC
within the next three semesters," she said.
Those numbers don't distinguish between full time students, and
those who simply take a summer school course and return to their
Shelby Samples, a 4.0 student and varsity swimmer at Rancho
Cotate High School, was turned down by Berkeley and Stanford but
accepted by UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis.
"I'm leaning toward San Diego," she said. "That
was always my top choice, so I was pretty excited."
Cook, who counts neurobiology as an interest and thinks she will
likely take pre-med courses, said she's now embracing the idea that
her dream school was a good dream, but reality might turn out
"I hope I'm going to look back and think there is no other
school I could have gone to but this one."