Parent Workshop for 9th and 10th grade families

Are you a parent of a 9th or 10th grade student? Do you have (what seems like) hundreds of questions to ask someone about the college process? Do you wonder whether your child is taking the appropriate classes?

Stop by Hamilton High School’s workshop on understanding where your child should be academically, what they should be doing off campus and how to get into college (and even the school of their choice).
9th and 10th grade parent seminar
Monday, February 27th at 7pm
Goldman Library of Hamilton High School
2955 S. Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Questions? call
(310) 280-1485
Presented by Marlene Garza of Guidance by Garza.

The life learning process

In the midst of spending countless hours reading applications for students, clients and admissions, I think I forgot about this obligation that is blogging.


I was working with a client the other day with brainstorming and writing the many personal statements needed for the many schools to which she was applying. The writing prompts were so exciting for this young thirty-something year old but not to her. She showed me her list of prompts with a blank stare and words of defeat. Slowly, and after many questions posed by me in the process, we were able to tackle the list of prompts that included her writing more about herself and philosophical perspectives.

One question posed from a top school seemed a bit easier to work through; it asked the applicant to write about a time that they learned something about themselves that they did not expect to learn. Seems a bit introspective, right? For many people, this question is at the heart of psychotherapy and discovered after many hours (and dollars) of therapy.

This particular topic got me thinking about myself and about what I learn every day in my profession. In addition to my day job, I train high school students to complete the Los Angeles marathon with a program called Students Run Los Angeles.

Yes, I have run a marathon. Several times.

Thinking about this supplemental college application questions in my own life, I got to thinking about how running with these young people has changed me not only as an educator, but as a human being and as a marathoner.

I realized this last week as I sat in a marathon leader meeting with over fifty other leaders (educators-turned-marathoners) from across Los Angeles. The SRLA coordinator was speaking to us about the upcoming half marathon. Our 3,000 students would be running with many other community runners and our student runners needed to put into practice the many lectures pertaining to “Runner’s Etiquette” that have been instilled since the beginning of the season. He went on to mention that there have been complaints in the past to race directors about the challenges with having students run the races with other community runners.

I thought about my last marathon that didn’t include my team of high school runners. I traveled to the bay area for one of my favorite races in one of my favorite cities in California, San Francisco. I wanted to PR at the race. I hoped for cool weather. I hoped for well trained running legs. I hoped for happy faces and sweet swag. Mostly, I got that.

My biggest challenge on the course whilst running was weaving through runners along narrow (and sometimes not so narrow) running paths. Runners were socializing and running in “walls” or groups of more than four or five runners wide, making it incredibly challenging for others to pass. They walked through the water stations and one runner dumped half of her water out nearly splashing my shoes. Walkers chose to walk right in the middle of a narrow path rather than walk to the right (as is proper running etiquette).

c7b58-first2brace-bmpI thought of my kids. I thought about how much I drill into their fast-paced teenage heads that they cannot run in groups because it blocks other runners. I drill into their head about running sans both earbuds in their ears so they can hear other runners on the course (they know the routine as I run by with my “one ear!” statement while pointing to my one bud-less ear).

I remember how frequently I remind the young people at the beginning of the season to walk to the right during our runs if they choose to take a break on the course. I think about how less frequently I need to say it and how more frequently I say “thank you for walking to the right” as we approach marathon day. I remember how often I hear “thank you” from my runners to police officers blocking the roads from cars, or to volunteers at water stations on race day or to parents out with us during practice.

I remember how supportive they are to each other along the course. I think about how pumped they are after completing a milestone in training. I think about how much energy fills their weekly runners journals about what they loved/hated about the runs and what they look forward to in future training.

Training for a marathon changes everything about a person, from eating habits to goal setting, from perspective to humor. The teenager in September will be an incredibly different person in March. They complete 26.2 miles, a feat not accomplished by more than 1% of the U.S. population and yet these young people are not quite welcomed into the runners community and I wonder why.

It’s because they are teenagers. Not everyone likes teenagers. Frankly, many people are just annoyed with the immaturity, the lack of impulse control and the fact that they don’t always have their shit together.  Working with teenagers takes patience.

They are in complete learning mode, even if it is at a starting line for a marathon. Teenagers absorb everything, they eat up compliments, love the support and get hurt/defensive when adults (or their peers) are mean to them.

And they screw up. A lot.

I have to remember how much I screwed up in high school in order to be a bit empathetic. It takes a while to dig into the memories but I sometimes have to.

I wonder if other adult marathoners wonder about the progression these young people have made in their lives in order to get to that starting line. I contemplate if the adults can comprehend the adrenaline running through these young students already pumped bodies as they stand in line with the thousands of other runners. Drastic changes have been made in diet, life choices, training expectations, study habits and friendships, just because running a marathon is now so attainable to them.

They are teenagers. Imagine the growth potential after this feat!

2bd86-srla2bholiday-bmpOne of my students still has no idea what he wants to do with his life. He’s a junior in high school. He loves to run and loves Biology. He knows he can run a marathon. He somehow wants to incorporate these things into the rest of his life. Running the marathon for the first time last year changed his life. It changed his entire family’s life. He marches forward, okay with the uncertainty of his future but knowing that it will work out. He is one of my thirty-nine this year. And one of over 100 runners I have worked with through SRLA in the last six years.

Running the LA marathon alone for the first time was an experience. Running with these young people has transformed me. I want to be better. I want to eat healthier. I want to treat people better. These teenagers watch my every move. They learn from me. They learn how to say “excuse me” to pedestrians and how to say “good morning” to the couple walking their dog along the same street we are running on. They wave an appreciative hand to the car that yields to them in the cross walk.

I want to know as much as possible about running to share with these young people. I want to perfect my running form because it’s what I expect from my runners. They take everything in from training like a sponge and speak a mile a minute to their parents and adults about workouts, how sore they are from practice or how many miles they completed on Sunday morning. They walk the halls of school with a newfound sense of confidence after another set of miles has been logged into their training journal.

They are part of the running community now just as much as I am. These young people are hungry for more running and they are just as serious about marathon training as the adults I know in the community. They yearn to better their performance and to better their life. They seek to learn more and I am so excited to teach them because we are part of that exclusive marathoners “club.” It’s my responsibility as an adult to be this source of education for young people outside the confines of a school. These young people are not born with the tools to succeed or the confidence to become great. It’s a learned skill. If I’m not helping them learn how to be a better person, who will.

I never realized how much this program has changed my life until last week when my two worlds collided in my head. Who would have thought that a prompt for a personal statement on someone else’s college application would inspire me to think and write about the unexpected learning about myself?

*raises hand*

I now ask you, can you think of a time where you learned something from a place or person that you were not expecting?

Love What You Do….Do What You Love

A couple of weeks ago, I had a parent meeting with a fabulous person to discuss her young adult’s future. We reviewed several colleges and set a plan for the application process. After business was over, we sat and chatted about life, philosophies, our life history and much that makes us who we are. It was heartwarming.

While I was walking her out of the office, she told me about a video and thought I should share it on this blog. Today, as I sat in my my parked car checking tweets, I saw the #iSad hashtag about Steve Jobs. It made me sad to think about the end of an incredible life that changed the world as we know it. I sat and wondered how many more phenomenal people are out there, walking in the this man’s footsteps or creating new ones in the world.

Watch and listen.

Steve Jobs had three themes and three stories in the speech, connect the dots (even if they don’t make sense right now, they will in retrospect), love what you do, live as though today is the last day of your life. When he presented these wise words, he hoped he’d be living several more decades, not only a few years. But with the wake up call, he was able to get his affairs in order, and live his life.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college because he did not see the value in his education; in spending his family savings on a college education because he wasn’t sold after six months. Students, what is the value of your education? What is it worth to you? Why do you want to go to college? Is it because you want to do something that you love? Is it because your parents want you to go to college at whatever expense? Arriving at the “right” decision to attend post-secondary education has got to be the most adult decision a young person must make at that age; the decision to attend college is not to be taken lightly.

But, if the decision means that college is not in the cards at this point in your life, maybe it’s not meant to be. Jobs says do what you love and live your own life. It will make sense and the dots will connect, if you have the confidence to live your own life.

Students and parents, a young adult’s desire to attend college is an important one, let the student have a voice in the process and decision making. They will thank you for it later, because they will connect the dots looking backward.

The last thing I want to comment on can be discussed at every age, whether it be deciding on majors or on choosing a profession. Jobs (and many others) says to do what you believe is great work, “if you haven’t found it yet, then keep looking and don’t settle.” Even at this point in my life, this is something I must remember. Am I doing my best work? Is this work something that I love or have I settled? Is this truly what I want to do with my life? Rhetorical questions, but oh so appropriate.
Adults and teenagers alike can sit and reflect on what “best work” means, whether it be the essay that is due in class or a project/assignment due to our superiors at work. Even those that work for themselves have to constantly remember to produce the best product or offer the best service that they can possibly offer.
Look at everything as a beginner, be creative, love what you do, do your best work.
Thank you Stanford for having this phenomenal human being share his words of wisdom to the experts and professionals of the future.

UC/CSU Applications open on October 1st!

Deadline to submit is November 30 but it is in the students BEST interest to submit applications as close to November 1st as possible!

Students, here is what you will need to complete the application:
*Your transcript-if your school prints UC/CSU transcripts, please get that one instead. If not, be sure to have access to the UCOP Doorways and type in your school name and location or your school code.
*Brag Sheet/Resume-having this complete with all activities, awards and recognition, sports, volunteer work, coursework outside of your high school, and anything else you would like to share.
*Personal statement-be sure to have your guidance counselor look at it and seek advice from your teachers of English. Please be sure to submit the best quality essay that can say the most about you in 1000 words. If you need additional assistance, call on Garza.
Here are important websites:
Students applying to the UC system must meet the eligibility requirements for FRESHMAN or for TRANSFER students. In addition, be sure that you have already completed the SAT or ACT and any additional requirements needed if you are applying to specialized programs like Engineering or Dance.
Students applying to the CSU system must review the admissions criteria and check to see which campus offer which majors, which campus are impacted, and be sure to also sign up for placement tests!
*Note-Some schools MAY ask students to submit transcripts early (almost as soon as an application has been submitted) but MOST SCHOOLS will only seek official transcripts at the end of the students high school senior year.
Lastly, the UC and CSU system use their own criteria to determine eligibility for fee waivers. Students must have access to family income information for the UC application.
Questions? Please, please, please ask!
Good effort!

College Workshop! 9/21 @ 6pm Don’t miss out!

College Workshop: Understanding the College Application Process

For Parents and Students (Juniors and Seniors-and anyone else that would like to attend!)

Wednesday, September 21st at 6pm

Learn what it means when people say “students must find the right fit”, learning about A-G Requirements,finding exceptional extracurricular activities and community service, understand the application process, understanding testing, community college options (in school and post high school), learn the ins and outs of applying to college, get your questions answered!

Please arrive early for parking and to guarantee yourself a seat!

Seminar begins at 6pm

Hamilton High School Campus

Goldman Library (2nd floor Brown Hall)

2955 S. Robertson Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90034

This is a FREE workshop hosted by Marlene Garza, Hami counselor and founder of Guidance by Garza

Every word counts!

Did you know that only about 20% of undergraduate applications for admissions are a confident admit or deny to an admissions officer? That’s it! That means that about 80% of you will have your shot at undergraduate admissions office committee hearings, without you even present to defend yourself.

Who defends you? The admission officers that read your application. You have about a dozen or so pages to present the best case scenario to the admissions committee: personal statements, detailed extracurriculars, commitment in and to your studies, and letters of recommendations.
Now, letters of recommendations for college admissions (not supplements) are from at least two teachers that know you well, and your high school guidance counselor. Oftentimes snippets of these recommendations are read in committee to display the best of you, the applicant. If you want the best shot at the best presentation in committee, then it is in the students best interest to find people that know them well.
What does “know well” actually mean? Well, the teacher does not have to be a friend of the family nor do they have to be a relative or have known you more than a couple of years. But, students, here is something to think about:
Did you make the best effort to help the teacher know who you are? Did you share your questions in class? Did you stay after class to ask questions or to pick your teachers brain? Did you decide to spend extra time on an assignment so that your teacher can discover what an extraordinary thinker you may be? Did you invite your teacher to your volleyball/basketball/tennis game? I know teachers are busy, but small details can go a long way especially when they only have one page to write about how extraordinary you are.
Now, on to the guidance counselor. This one may be a little tricky. If you attend Hamilton high school or a Small Learning Community School, or your counselor is “yours” for four years, then this can be a bit easier since the counselor, ideally, has had four years to get to know you.
Before application season (or at the very beginning), remind them of your awesome qualities with a brag sheet or share with them why you chose the particular colleges you did (including major, why you want to study there, activities you may want to be involved with,etc). It is in your best interest to help the counselor out a bit-a brag sheet or short summary of what you would like emphasized in the letter can help.
For the students that attend a large school with grade-level counselors that only meet most students once, if that (or if you have a new counselor this year), getting to know the counselor and having the counselor know you well before he/she has to write about you, may prove to be a challenge. Getting to know the counselor will take initiative on the *students* part. Introduce yourself, talk a bit about your college choices, your interests, hand them your brag sheet and list of colleges. Help them write the best letter for you, even if they may not have hours of free time to do so.
Notice that I said student. Not parent. As much as I love parents visiting me, introducing themselves to me and offering insight on their child, I as a counselor am not writing a letter about how awesome said students parents are or how involved they are with his/her life (read helicopter). I am writing about the student and what contributions the student made to the school and the community. The parent information can be supplementary, but information is most genuine when it comes to the student themselves.
Most application essays are only about 500 words. Most letters of recommendations are about a page long. Applications only offer a couple of sentences worth of space to describe extracurriculars. USE EVERY WORD! EVERY WORD COUNTS!

Let the good times roll

For many of you, the start of a new school year is right around the corner or has already arrived! Congratulations! One more year to make a difference, to create change in the world and put your best foot forward!

For Hami students that have started to email question after question about scheduling, “looking good” or the like-remember to take a deep breath! Keep in mind that your counselor is one person working on schedules and preparing academic profiles for nearly 400 students and for some of them that number is close to 500. Patience is key. I had about 75 emails to respond to today. Welcome back Garza! 🙂
Schedules will be distributed soon to eager students and parents. I have some suggestions for you on how to navigate the “system”. In my informal and unscientific observations from last year, the suggestions certainly helped both student and counselor.
There is also an incredible amount of discussion around AP classes on FB (yes, I pay attention to whats going on) and I have noticed that most students waited until now to start their summer work and now realized that AP is the maybe best/worst decision (causing for another schedule change). If you aren’t sure about whether you have made the right decision to take the AP class, remember that NOT taking the class will not affect you as much as you think it will. Admissions officers will not admit/deny you because you dropped ONE AP class in your schedule during one year (although if it is a common occurrence, perhaps they may look skeptically at your profile). They are bigger picture kind of people.
What do colleges like to see? They prefer that students take advantage of all the opportunities in their environment as well as consistent in their lives-academically, athletically and socially. Be you, your passion will stand out and help you stand out.
I want to also point out that the question “will that sport/activity/class look good for college” is also a loaded question that can lead to lots of lovely discussion. First, read my blog with the same title (click here).
Class of 2012: if you haven’t already, it is in your best interest to start working on that personal statement! The University of California has not changed the application prompt and there are no secrets: Review the prompts and start writing! The Common App has similar prompts that students can start working on as well. After spending the last four years reading application essays for my alma mater, I can immediately set apart the students that took the time to write their essay and others that sat at the computer the day before the application was due pretended that the UC app was their daily journal or blog. Not good. Take the time to work on your essay, get help if you need it! If are not a Hami Humanities student, don’t fret! I can still help!
The Common App site is open for students to start working. There is so much to do before the application deadlines and if you haven’t started plugging away at your “To Do” list, then get to it!

College admissions scare tactics that need not scare you

Every Monday, google sends me an email on “college admissions” articles from the last week. This helps me keep up to date on other blogs, advice columns, admissions announcements, etc. Oftentimes, I share them on social networking sites, like Twitter or here on this blog. This weeks email wasn’t so exciting until about five articles down from the top of the email. I read “Prediction Tools Gauge College Admissions Chancesand my heart drops and my mind starts formulating forty million questions about what the article could possibly be about.

After reading the article to understand a bit more about the advertised site, I have come to realize that sites like “mychances” or “admissionsplash” are meant to not only scare you into maybe not applying or into maybe applying to schools that are not considered a good fit. The challenge is that, these sites are not reading your college application essay, nor are they taking your environment into account for extracurriculars or high school classes. For most colleges, a human makes the decision to admit or deny an application, not a computer.
I get it. They use statistic sites similar to what the CollegeBoard uses and then creates a formula to determine the chances you will get in. In theory, this seems like an awesome idea and for a hot second, I wish I would have thought of it. But I didn’t. Shucks. What you can do is look at the statistics posted by these websites, see where you fit in with the numbers. Remember that it’s only a numbers game.
Rather than rely on a computer program to determine your chances of getting in to a school, it is time to do some work on your own. Do your own college search on sites like The Princeton Review or the College Board and find schools that you like. There are many considerations to review when making this decision, and it should not come lightly.
Here are some factors to consider when YOU select colleges from which to apply:
1) Make a list of things you like to do, consider whether you want to continue those activities in to college
2) Look at your GPA and SAT scores. A student’s GPA is the most important factor in admissions and a large part of the whole package. While many schools see SAT scores as a secondary factor, they are still a factor in admissions decisions.
3) Choosing a major or program of study. While you don’t have to know exactly what to study, there are fields that may be of interest to you based on your personality and interests. Several sites are available to help you understand yourself better-and you can read this blog that offers links. Be careful though, you will want to look at multiple assessments. A counselor can help you with this if needed.
4) Location, Location, Location! Four years of your life! Make sure you take the location (weather, demographics, family) into consideration.
Ultimately, this decision should not be based on a computer program that runs your numbers based on a criteria selected by someone NOT affiliated with the college/university that you are interested in. There are many humans to use as resources, the admissions office, your counselor, independent counselors, college fairs, your family, and your instinct. Make sound decisions, not because some computer programs says yes or no, but because you want to.

Class of 2012-this is it!

The last summer before you have to hit the ground running, take a rigorous schedule of classes, continue volunteering, joining student clubs, make friends and boyfriends or girlfriends and party like you never have before.
Oh, and you have to apply to college. That tiny detail that will change your life….forever.
Without stressing it too much, finding the right school for you is incredibly important! You want to find the school that speaks to you, that offers the classes you want to take, that admits the kids just as quirky as you, and that allows you to take a summer trip to the middle of nowhere and get credit for it too!
There are several resources available to help you find the best schools, but don’t be fooled by the fancy pictures and the funky videos the school posts on their website! Get to the nitty gritty! Check their statistics!
*How many students return to their school for sophomore year?
*How much financial aid do they offer (need based and non-need based) to students?
*How many of those really cool classes do they really offer from their general catalog of eccentric courses?
*How many students does the school admit that fall in to your GPA range?
There are several more questions to ask before putting the school on your list of colleges to apply to and before saying “yes!” to four years and up to $200,000 of tuition that your parents, the government and the school will fork over to educate you. Garza is here if you need additional assistance.
The next thing to do is read this awesome article:

10 Costly Mistakes in College Applications

We (as in my generation and the “old people”) want you (students) to be positive contributors to society, make sound decisions, and be better than us. Learn from our mistakes and make this place better. It starts with this one life changing experience…a college education.

Bringing Teens and Community Together

If you are an incoming 9th grade student or a parent of an incoming 9th grade student and live near the Alexander Hamilton High School residential area then this program is just for you!

Stepping Forward is a summer program specifically for incoming ninth grade students that meets at the park near the Robertson Recreation Center for 10 weeks Tuesday-Friday. The program starts June 28th and offers activities, leadership building, classes, field trips, academic guidance, friendship building and just something for students to do during the summer.
This is a free program for students!
For more information, contact Beth Ryan (310) 888-8787 or email at
If you are a donor, they are always looking for sponsors, too!