OGDEN -- Jessi Short worked hard until her senior year at Ben Lomond High School, finishing almost all her credits early.
Then, she basically took a year off.
"I showed up 22 days of my senior year," said Short, now 21, of Ogden. "Then I took some time off before college, and I worked as a housekeeper at a hospital. Now, I am back in school, studying radiology. I'm here today to help these students learn from my mistakes."
Short was one of several Weber State University students, mostly sophomores, who gathered Tuesday to offer personal insights at a GEAR UP Conference, attended by 20 Ogden School District seniors.
GEAR UP is an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Funded by a federal grant, the program is aimed at helping low-income students successfully graduate from high school and prepare for college.
"I feel old, compared to the other students," Short said. "I waited two years to go to college, and I was not prepared to come back. Now I am much more prepared for school and for life."
Sheldon Cheshire, WSU coordinator of the Ogden GEAR UP partnership, was one of Short's advisers back at Ben Lomond High, before his move to WSU.
"Jessi's got a great story," Cheshire said. "Her story is just the kind of thing these students need to hear. A lot of students think they can coast during their senior year, and take time off after school, but it makes getting back on track so much more difficult."
Cheshire and his panel, most of them his former students, offered tips on how to spend a senior year to create the smoothest transition into a successful college life, at Weber State University or elsewhere.
* Plan to work hard during your final year of high school and practice specific skills you will need at college. Panel members advised the students to get used to reading a lot, and to become masters of note taking.
* Students also suggested learning to build working relationships with teachers. Professors will be more likely to help and write recommendations for students they know well, panelists said. Cheshire advised taking advantage of professor's office hours to get questions answered and to build a mutual understanding. In class, ask questions, speak up and make yourself heard, the older students said.
* If possible, take college-level courses while in high school. One panel member said taking several such courses while in high school cost very little, and saved almost a semester's worth of fees, which could have cost close to $2,000 in tuition, fees and textbook costs.
High school teachers covering college-level material tend to be more helpful, others said. College instructors and professors covering the same material "will not hold your hand" and guide you through coursework, others said. For early-credit options available to high school students, talk to a school counselor or visit http://departments.weber.edu/ce/creditoptions/default.aspx.
* Don't procrastinate. The Weber State students on the panel advised their teen listeners to "be your own grown-up," and not to wait in hopes somebody else will track down the needed information.
* Once you've been accepted to college, don't delay registering for college classes, a panel member said. If you wait too long, large general education courses taught by the best teachers will be full, as will smaller courses within your major. One panel member said she delayed registering for an upcoming fall-term class, and now finds herself 20th on the waiting list for any spot that might open.
* If you attend Weber State, sign up for an FYE -- or First Year Experience -- course, panelists advised. The class (www.weber.edu/fye) covers time-management techniques, study skills and exploration of majors, and helps students become aware of the campus layout and resources. It also allows students to make friends who have some of the same challenges and concerns. Cheshire handed out small journals and encouraged the teens to make goals for five things they want to accomplish in the next year. One wanted to host a "Star Wars" movie marathon. Another wanted to get into a Colorado university known for its engineering program. Mercedes Baca, 17, a Ben Lomond senior, set the goal of performing with an orchestra. She hopes to attend Snow College and study music and English.
"I've learned not to procrastinate, to focus on academics, and to make friends," she said of her preliminary college plans. "Friends will help make you happy, and without happiness, you can't do your best work."