School days are winding down. For many families with teenagers, these are days of wistful pride as their children in gowns and tuxedos drive off to proms and receive their diplomas in graduation pomp. The summer will quickly come and go, and in the fall many of these new grads will head off to college. In fact, more than 85 percent of graduates from the Las Virgenes and Conejo School Districts will go off to college. One more new generation reaching for their dreams.

For more than twenty years, Patricia Croner has been helping these kids achieve those dreams. For fifteen years, she was Agoura High School’s college and career resource advisor and helped develop their career center. She became credentialed in career guidance and also worked as a “master trainer” helping to set up college guidance programs in schools throughout the state. In 1991 she set out in her own business as a private college counselor.

Pat Croner, married to her husband Harry for 44 years and with three grown children, is an amazingly energetic woman who also serves on the Chamber of Commerce and the board of directors of the Wellness Community and other charitable organizations.

“My job,” she explained, “is to help a student determine their capabilities and needs so that the schools to which they apply are appropriate.” With college admission becoming more and more competitive every year, she grooms her students to make their best impression.

“Inappropriate expectations,” she says, “is a parental disease.” Parents often lose sight of what’s best for their child. “They want to impress their friends. They want a name.”

And kids too have to be taught to have realistic expectations. “Parents,” Croner says, “should talk to their kids about money.” Room, board, and tuition at University of California schools cost nearly $15,000 per year, and more than $30,000 per year at private schools. “If kids are adult enough to go off on their own to college, they’re ready to understand the burden of those costs.”

The admissions process at some schools, she explained, goes by the numbers. For instance, the University of California and Cal State schools will accept their top echelon students just based on grades and SAT scores. For other than the top echelon, California public universities may weigh other factors, particularly a student’s essay because no letters of recommendation are required. Most private schools will look more at the diversity of a student – the quality of a student’s curriculum, how many honors and advanced placement courses they’ve taken, their passions and activities, letters of recommendation, as well as their essays, grades, and scores.

While Croner is in business to provide private counseling services, she says that the career and college guidance centers at the local high schools are run by very dedicated advisors.

More than anything Pat Croner wants to see “kids” succeed wherever they go. “It is important that parents recognize the value of their child and the best part of their kid,” she says, “because all of a sudden they’ll be gone.”