Choice assignment: doing the homework for college applications

With all the anticipation and even some anxiety, graduating seniors and their parents must feel like colleges choose them. First, though, the seniors have to make a choice; and with 110 public and private four-year colleges and 59 community colleges in North Carolina and another 4,000 of those institutions across the country, it’s a choice best made after some deliberation.

So when seniors in LCPS’s high schools sat down last week to fill out online applications for colleges, they had already done some homework – with the help of their school counselors – about what schools looked like the best fit and what they needed to do to have the best chance of winning admission.

About 400 members of the Class of 2016 took advantage of North Carolina College Application Week to schedule some time at the computer with their counselors in order to avoid a last-minute rush and, in many cases, to apply without having to pay fees that can range up to $75 per college. Without a waiver, those fees can add up if students apply to multiple colleges, as most do.

South Lenoir counselor Candi Tyndall helps senior Caleb Resendiz with an application to Pfeiffer University during N.C. College Application Week.

South Lenoir counselor Candi Tyndall helps senior Caleb Resendiz with an application to Pfeiffer University during N.C. College Application Week.

With counselor Candi Tyndell looking over his shoulder, South Lenoir senior Caleb Resendiz filled out a free application to Pfeiffer University, a college that caught his attention when coaches there invited him to try out for the soccer team. He’s focused more, however, on acquiring the education he’ll need for the HVAC work his family does, so he’s also applying to Wayne Community College and the University of Mount Olive.

“Statistically, if they apply to four or more they have a better chance of getting in and going to college,” North Lenoir High counselor Jennifer Hollingsworth said, citing a study published on collegeboard.org. She and fellow counselor Hilary Lucas encourage multiple applications and say students generally seek admission to two to four schools they’ve taken the time to research.

LCPS’s high school counselors meet with seniors individually early in the school year and, using data like average GPA and average ACT and SAT scores for incoming freshmen at particular colleges, help keep choices realistic. Every high school senior in the district also gets that information for all public and private colleges in the state in a book given them by GEAR UP, an LCPS program that works with middle and high school students to encourage college enrollment.

“I think our students tend to make realistic choices,” Hollingsworth said. “They need to know where they will best fit, and they do.”

Beyond meeting academic standards for admission, the 17 and 18 year olds contemplating college next year have to make a number of decisions in determining which college fits – big or small, near to or far from home, familiarity with the area – but, to their credit, seniors typically choose a college based on their career choice, according to counselors.

Cassidy Lingerfelt, a South Lenoir High senior, wants to go into radiography. She’d already applied to Lenoir Community College and Pitt Community College when she began her application to Chowan University. Craven Community College and Barton University waited in the wings. “I have to have other options, rather than get my hopes up on one,” Lingerfelt said, adding that she’s leaning toward Pitt, based on the recommendations of friends who go there.
“I think community college will be best for me because my radiography degree is only two years anyway. I can get that done, rather than going to a university and spending more money,” she said.

Cassidy Lingerfelt, a South Lenoir senior, plans to go into radiography.

Cassidy Lingerfelt, a South Lenoir senior, plans to go into radiography.

“Everyone wants to do medical,” Tyndall said, assessing the trending career interests among South Lenoir seniors. “Nursing, dental hygiene, physical therapy – those vocations. They pay really well and that’s what they’re looking for.”

College Foundation of North Carolina, which co-sponsors College Application Week and gives students an entry point for applications through cfnc.org, provides an online Career Interest Inventory that LCPS students complete as juniors. Students then use a worksheet to explore three careers that match their interests and use listings on CFNC to match those careers with programs offered by two-year and four-year colleges in the state.
“They do that as juniors, so when they’re seniors, they’ve already made some intelligent choices,” Hollingsworth said.

Allison Smith, a North Lenoir senior, has applied to Meredith College and N.C. State University, but has her heart set on attending UNC-Chapel Hill – partly because she’s in the running for a prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship, but mostly because it suits her career interests.

Allison Smith, under the watchful eye of North Lenoir counselor Hilary Lucas, applies to Meredith College as a backup to her first choice, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Allison Smith, under the watchful eye of North Lenoir counselor Hilary Lucas, applies to Meredith College as a backup to her first choice, UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I’m not applying to that many because I have a college I really want. I’m not trying to overextend,” she said of UNC, where she applied in October. “I really like the campus. I visited there multiple times and I attended a conference there that really brought my attention to the people there. I want to major in public relations and they have a really great School of Journalism.”

UNC is also on Kiara Hall’s list, but the Kinston High senior is taking the opposite tact. She’s applying to six universities in North Carolina. “You don’t know what school you might get accepted to,” she said, “so just keep applying. It’s free.” With the applications behind her – including to her school of choice, UNC-Greensboro – she was at the computer downloading a fee waiver form for the public institutions.

Typically, about 80 percent of an LCPS graduating class says it plans to attend college. Those plans are usually firmed up during College Application Week. “I anticipate we’ll have 75 percent of our senior class come through this week,” Amy Lynch, a Kinston High counselor, said, adding that a smaller number of students applied earlier in hopes of hearing back sooner.

Kiara Hall is applying to six colleges in North Carolina but hopes to get into UNC-G because she has family in the Greensboro area.

Kiara Hall is applying to six colleges in North Carolina but hopes to get into UNC-G because she has family in the Greensboro area.

The applications don’t ask hard questions, but they can ask a lot of them. Some of them could sound odd, even personal, to students unfamiliar with the process.

At Lenoir County Early College High School, counselor Karen Roddy teaches a seminar for seniors in which they are required to complete at least one college application. That course – and having Roddy at their elbow while they work through applications – adds to the comfort level.

“It helps to have someone there that can say, ‘Don’t panic, this is what you want to do,’” Roddy said in an interview with The Free Press.

Applying is a digital process. The student’s transcript of grades is forwarded to colleges electronically. It’s relatively quick and efficient. Students could get a response from colleges and universities within a week or two – or much longer in the case of large universities sorting through thousands of applications. After Jan. 1, seniors can begin the more complicated process of applying for financial aid.

By then, Kiara Hall will be a Kinston High graduate developing her own financial aid plan. Because she doubled up on required subjects early in her high school career, she’ll have enough credits to finish high school a semester early. She plans to go to work full-time as a cashier at the grocery where she already works part-time.

Her plans for the money she earns? “I’m going to put it in a savings account,” she said, “and save it up for school.”