Major in something marketable. Finish fast. Get a good job. This is what parents mean when they tell their college-bound student, "Make the most of your time in college."

Students can hear those words, "make the most," and interpret the advice to mean: Have fun. This is your last chance to be young and irresponsible. Take amusing classes. Don't miss any parties. Stretch your college days out for at least six years.Parents who want their kid on track and on time might want to enlist the help of an expert. They could suggest their student visit a high school or college counselor. Or read a new book by Patrick O'Brien called "Making College Count." (Graphic Management Corp., $14.95)

O'Brien says college is more important than ever when it comes to having a career you enjoy. Students, recognizing this, are starting college in record numbers. But graduations rates, nationally, are at an all-time low.

He quotes American College Testing statistics for 1996: Only 72 percent of college freshmen will return as sophomores. (In private colleges, the number is 74 percent.) Only 26 percent will graduate in four years. Another 28 percent will graduate in five years. Of those who do graduate, only two out of three will get a job that requires a degree.

By O'Brien's calculations, only 36 percent of next fall's freshmen are likely to graduate within five years and get a job that requires a college degree.

In a telephone interview with the Deseret News, O'Brien said, "I ask students to think long-term. To create a mental picture of where they want to be in 10 years." Where do they want to live, what kind of friends will they have, what job could inspire and excite them?

You must start early to reach your goals, O'Brien says. Don't waste a minute of your freshman year. Learn to take early morning classes. Study between class and before dinner. If you plan your daylight hours wisely, you'll have free time in the evenings for fun and volunteer work. And you will need those extracurricular activities to get the summer internship programs and, ultimately, the job you want.

Unless you absolutely need the money (for food, not cars or fancy clothes), don't work during the school year. Study. Go to class. Make stunning grades. O'Brien said, `If you have a 2.0 your freshman year, even a 3.5 your sophomore year will leave you with a 2.75 going into your summer internship interviews."

You don't need a 4.0 to get the job of your dreams, but if you don't plan to do better than 2.2, don't bother, he says. Save yourself money and time and get a job right out of high school.

Have a plan. Work your way into the leadership of your extracurricular organizations. And finish school in four years. This means you should declare a major your freshman year (sophomore at the latest) and don't change it more than once, O'Brien says.

High school and college counselors echo his advice.

At Salt Lake City's Highland High, the scholarship test adviser, Annette Dunham, says she cautions students about keeping their grades up if they want to hold on to their scholarships. About making sure what credits will transfer before they sign up for classes at a community college. About finding a major and sticking to it.

"Sometimes you can get a master's degree in something different in less time than it would take you to graduate if you keep switching," she pointed out. As for fun, she says, you can take fun classes through community education - for less money - once you've finished your real education.