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Published on March 11th, 2011 | by Staff 12-13

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SMC: where unacknowledged dreams come true

GRAND OLD FLAG: Prestigious and obscure four-year colleges line the bulletin board in the college center; however, SMC is underrepresented. (The Samohi/Sam Boloorchi)

McKenna Jensen
Staff Writer

Many flags line the walls of the hallway to the college center offices, all sporting the names of schools that students and teachers have attended. In the office of Frank Gatell, Samo college counselor, two of these flags hang proudly: University of California – Berkeley and Santa Monica Community College (SMC).

Many seniors pass through the offices of Gatell and the other college counselors with well-defined dreams of studying biomedical engineering or  attending a music conservatory; others enter clueless. These students may be at a loss as to where their futures are headed, but they will still turn their noses at one suggestion: community college.

“Many seniors feel like they have worked incredibly hard,” senior Laura Piacentini said, “and that they would be wasting all of that work by going to a community college.”

While many seniors view community college as the “slacker’s choice,”  Gatell says this overlooks the ample amounts of opportunity available.

“When you graduate from high school and you aren’t really ready to jump into a four-year school, you can use SMC as a means of figuring yourself out,” Gatell said.

Santa Monica College has one of the highest ranking transfer programs in the country. In 2010, SMC was the number one school for transfers to UCLA, successfully moving 1,053 students to the acclaimed four-year university. According to Gatell, the college also has a scholarship program available which provides students who sign up with a minimum of 3.0 GPA guaranteed admission to one of the local universities.

As Gatell also pointed out, community college is often a more accessible option for students who do not have the funds to afford tuition at an increasingly expensive four-year university.

“On average, the cost of going to community college is $1,000 a year in tuition,” Gatell said. “That’s great compared to a Cal State which is minimum $8,000 a year, and UCs, which are $12,000 a year just for tuition.”

Despite these positive aspects, many people continue to reject the idea of attending community college. Today’s high school students, it seems, tend to equate a “successful” life with Ivy League universities, large houses and fast cars, and seem enamored with the idea that bigger and more expensive is better.  But as senior Jason Pitts points out, a student can achieve the same happiness at SMC as they would at UCLA or even Harvard — given they have the right attitude.

“The only negative aspect of attending SMC would be created by the student,” Pitts said, “because it’s one’s approach to college that is most important. The true key to success and happiness relies mainly on one’s perspective on situations in life, not where they go to college.”

Max Gill, a former Samo student, made good use of the transfer program through SMC.

“I didn’t get into UCLA straight out of high school,” Gill said. “SMC also has a Scholars Program that is specifically tailored to help people transfer to a four-year program. The Scholars Program was the biggest benefit for me. They had a very dedicated group of counselors who specialized in transferring to UCs and Cal States. I went there for two years and entered as a junior at UCLA.”

Gill, who is preparing to graduate UCLA in June, is thankful for the opportunities afford him at SMC.

“I’ll be graduating [UCLA] with a degree in Applied Mathematics, a minor in Statistics and a specialization in Computing. I am very lucky that a place like SMC exists that gave me a chance to get into the school I wanted. Not all community colleges offer all the courses I needed to transfer — SMC did.”

There are many stories of accomplishment similar to Gill’s, showing that the opportunities for success provided by SMC make it a viable choice for a student’s future, even if some find it hard to see it as one.

“When students complain about going to SMC, I say ‘Why is that a negative? Last I checked I went there, and I think I’m doing okay,’” Gatell said.

mjensen@thesamohi.com

Editor’s Note: In the print edition of “The Samohi” (published March 10, 2011), this article incorrectly quoted Laura Piacentini referring to Santa Monica College as a “slacker’s choice.” Piacentini neither said nor implied SMC was a school for “slackers,” or any equivalent. We apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.


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