“The kids are overwhelmed and exhausted with the work required to complete the applications, along with their regular schoolwork,” said Elsa Clark, a member of the Virginia-based National Association for College Admission Counseling. She said if students choose a college that suits their needs, rather than for the prestige, “then the high school counselors are doing their job right.” At many Valley high schools, counseling offices are being bombarded with stressed-out students and parents with high hopes of attending a prestigious university. It is difficult to make students and their parents understand why some get accepted and others don’t, said Cleveland High college counselor Juan Alba. “So many parents and kids want the magic-bullet solution,” he said. “But the college application process is such an imperfect system. It’s human beings judging other human beings. I can tell them what to do to put them in the best possible position, but there’s no magic bullet.” At San Fernando High School, where most students are Latino, many are the first in their families to consider college. Besides the typical pressures college applicants face, they have financial concerns as well. “Their biggest fear is having the money,” said college counselor Sharon Drell. “There are those that don’t have (immigration) documents, and those whose parents encourage them to go to college, but not outside of Los Angeles for cultural reasons.” Despite those obstacles, many of the students succeed, Drell said. And many more are choosing campuses that suit their needs. “In the beginning, I was only aiming for the University of California,” said Sergio Padilla, a senior at San Fernando. “But now that I’m a senior, I’m applying to Cal State University, Sacramento. They had what I wanted.” Padilla, 17, wants to major in math. His goal is to study in Spain, and Sacramento offered the perfect study-abroad program. But he had to work hard to get the grades. By his junior year, he had completed advance-placement calculus. “There’s a lot of stress,” he said of the atmosphere in the counseling office. “All of a sudden, kids are saying, ‘Oh my God.’ The deadline is starting to affect them.” Taft High School senior Layla Naimi, 17, is applying to USC but would be content to get into California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She wants to major in construction management, which combines business, architecture and civil engineering. She has volunteered at various organizations. “The University of Southern California is the more difficult of the two, so it’s the one I’m more nervous about,” she said. Most of her friends are applying to universities that fit their career goals, rather than for the prestige, she said. And while her parents have played an active role in encouraging her education, she hasn’t felt pressured. “My mom is the one coming by me every week and asking about what I’ve done each week,” Naimi said. “She also did searches for scholarships. But it was a mutual effort.” For Thai, who also applied for early decision to Stanford University, her desire to attend a top school comes from seeing how hard her parents work in the family restaurant. “My parents work from morning until night,” she said. “My parents always just said, ‘Get an education.”‘ Though she’s nervous about the process, she said her mother comforts her. “What my mom always tells me is, ‘You tried your best.”‘ Susan Abram, (818) 713-3664 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals “One of the things that I learned is (the process) makes kids rather cynical to find themselves in a position to sell themselves,” said writer David Levinson, whose comedic play “Early Decision” – on stage at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica through Dec. 4 – explores the pressure parents place on their teenagers to get into the best universities and how that affects the family. In the last few years, some parents have paid consultants up to $4,000 to help their kids raise their SAT scores and add extracurricular activities, all to help them get an edge on the competition. Levinson said he was inspired by his own experiences as a father, helping his 11-year-old daughter apply to a selective San Fernando Valley middle school. “I think in some ways parents do generally want their children to go to good schools to make their kids’ lives easier,” he said. “For parents, where their children go to school is a tangible way to mark their accomplishment with their kids.” The play makes no argument for or against the pressure parents place on children. But some high school counselors believe the extra prodding and pushing from parents is too much. RESEDA – Jamie Thai will spend the next few days polishing her high school resume, then praying she has done well enough. The 17-year-old hopes administrators at the University of California notice the extra studying that got her a 4.2 grade-point average – plus her volunteering with Facey Medical Group, a spot on the school golf team, tutoring at the counseling office and working in her parents’ Porter Ranch restaurant. “Competition is growing every single year,” said Thai, a senior at Reseda’s Cleveland High School, where last year there were 41 valedictorians, all with at least 4.0 GPAs. “In our school it seems like the competition is intense.” It is a stressful, high-pressure time for Thai and thousands of high-achieving graduating seniors like her. As they rush to finish UC and Cal State applications before the Nov. 30 deadline, they all understand the need to stand out, and worry if they’ll be good enough.