What is college? Why should I think about college? How do I apply to college? How will I pay for college? What should I do now?
After nearly a decade of fielding such questions from elementary and middle school students, the director of admissions for Howard Community College decided to provide youngsters with college guide of their own.
The result is The Kids' College Almanac, A First Look at College, which Admissions Director Barbara Greenfield co-wrote and published with her brother, Robert Weinstein.
The book helps demystify college by introducing 10- to 14-year-olds to the vocabulary and concepts they may have heard but never really understood.
Greenfield, a 47-year-old resident of Columbia's Hickory Ridge village, led several groups of Swansfield Elementary fourth- and fifth-graders on tours of Howard Community College between 1987 and 1989.
She was amazed by their curiosity and inspired by their letters afterward, in which they told of dreams of becoming teachers, lawyers, veterinarians and nurses. Often, they asked how college could help them reach their goals.
"What struck me was how enthusiastic these kids were. Some of their letters were pretty compelling, really asking for help," she said.
About the same time, a number of librarians, teachers and Scout leaders started asking for advice on how to answer youths' questions about college. She also noticed that younger and younger children were attending college fairs.
"All of the college guides were aimed at juniors and seniors," she said. "By the time kids are seniors, they have usually made up their minds -- often without being well-informed."
Her brother, a New Jersey resident, has worked in educational publishing for more than a decade. He offered to help her with the book. But the pair's work and family obligations delayed the project for nearly six years.
"Last summer, he called and said, 'It's now or never,' so we finally got started," Greenfield said.
They started working with an educational division of publishing giant Simon and Schuster but decided to publish on their own so that they could maintain control of the many details they thought were vital. For instance, they thought it would be a rare child who would read the 270-page book cover-to-cover, so they designed it for easy browsing.
"You can pick the book up, open it to any page and read and understand the information, regardless of what other pages you have read," Greenfield said.
To make it further accessible to youths, they chose the paper and size so that the book could be held in one hand and stay open.
"We also knew that it had to have fun things to engage kids," she said. So they included tables that list college mascots and where well-known people attended college. Colleges from all 50 states are featured, not only to help children identify with the material, but also to help teach geography.
The idea of teaching children about college is not new. The Washington, D.C.-based Kids to College program, sponsored by Washington area universities and the Student Loan Marketing Association, targets sixth-graders with campus visits and workshops.
"The sooner students and their families learn about all of their educational options, the sooner they can begin to prepare for them," literature from the program states.
Greenfield said no sales figures are available for the 9,000 copies of the book printed. But some Howard guidance counselors are planning to use it in their schools.
Long Reach High School guidance counselor Jane Scott said her school bought four copies.
"Even though the book is geared toward younger kids, I know I will use it with seniors as well," Scott said. "A lot of high school age kids don't have that knowledge. It will also be of great use for parents where this might be their first family member in college."
The guide is the first full-length book published by Weinstein's 3-year-old Gerson Publishing Co. The pair made most of their contacts for early sales of the book by attending conventions, but they recently broke into the bookstore market.
Waldenbooks is carrying the guide and scheduled a series of book signings with Greenfield.
Greenfield and Weinstein plan to publish a companion activity book. "Our strongest markets so far are classrooms and libraries, so the activity book will focus on activities that teachers and parents can guide kids through," she said.
The pair have received praise since their book debuted in June. "The one negative comment we get is, 'Why so young?' " Greenfield said. "This is not about pressuring fourth- and fifth-graders to think about college. Kids dream. They were writing the letters and asking the questions.
"This is about providing a resource at their level. It's OK not to go to college as long as you are making an informed choice," she said.
For those who choose to go, though, Greenfield has plenty of advice.
"The bottom line is that it is the student that has to go to college," she said.
Pub Date: 9/01/96