Students spraying out college applications

April 21, 2013
photo - Sierra Rihana President has spent a lot of time talking to Sierra guidance counselor Melva Hall during her years at the high school. President was accepted to 27 universities, some of them Ivy League (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) Photo by JERILEE BENNETT,  THE GAZETTE
Sierra Rihana President has spent a lot of time talking to Sierra guidance counselor Melva Hall during her years at the high school. President was accepted to 27 universities, some of them Ivy League (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

Rihana President, like seniors everywhere, was anxious to find a college.

So the Sierra High School student sent out 35 applications and received 28 acceptance letters from Denver University, Colorado College, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, UCLA, New York University, Cornell and Brown, to name just a few.

President, who is valedictorian, knows her application process was overkill. “I was unsure, I’ve never done this, and I was afraid and nervous I would miss out,” she said.

RELATED: 'Admissions anxiety' runs rampant

Melva Hall, Sierra High School college counselor suggested she send around seven applications. “A couple sure things, some what-ifs, and a couple long reaches,” Hall said.

She pointed out that Rihana really didn’t have to worry, she’s top in her class, had a high ACT score, a grade point average of 4.3, which is all A’s but weighted even higher because she took the tougher Advanced Placement classes. Among her extracurricular activities were honor society president, theater, debate team, Madrigal Choir, tennis. She’s active in church.

Sierra’s principal, Zach Craddock, who has a host of programs to get his students to think about careers and college, said that Rihana is one of the hardest workers he’s seen. “Good things will happen wherever she goes to college.”

Hall said she was surprised Rihana had doubts, but says it is a very typical reaction among students. “It’s ‘I’ve got to get in somewhere.’”

Students everywhere are trending toward more applications.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that application rates are at an all time high, with 30 percent of students sending out more than seven.

It becomes a vicious circle, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has said that as applications soar, colleges struggle to predict the number of admitted students who will actually attend — leading to longer waiting lists. In turn students, hedge against the plummeting admission rates by sending more applications.

Adding fuel to the fire, college acceptance rates have declined over the past ten years from an average of about 70 percent down to 64 percent in 2011, according to a study by admission counseling group.

The Internet has made it easier for students to find more colleges — places they might never have heard of otherwise, noted Woody Longmire, Harrison School District 2 coordinator of student services. The district is pushing to have more than 90 percent of its graduates ready for college when they don the cap and gown.

Longmire tells students “Apply to the college they really want for sure, pick one close second and then one they wouldn’t think they have a ghost of a chance and go for it.”

Around 75 percent of D-2 students come from low income families. He has all of them apply to a community college which are usually open to any high school graduates. “It’s not hard to go, but it is hard for them to realize that they can go.”

Like Hall and other local counselors, Lisa Scott, counselor at Liberty High School in Academy District 20, said “There is no magic number. Some of my students apply to just a few schools, others apply to many.” The typical guideline is four to eight.

“When they start applying to 10 or 15 or more, it’s a huge amount of work and cost in application fees that are not refundable,” Scott said.

Rihana noted that her fees were waived through a program at Harrison, and by using an application service like The Common Application. A student fills out only one application and it is sent to several colleges in the organization. Even at that, Rihana said she spent many nights researching colleges, writing essays and preparing her applications.

Scott tells students to find a college that fits not only their pocketbook, but their personality. They have 4,000 or more to choose from. “Are they the type that want 30,000 best friends at a big research university or do they want a small college?” She tells students: The best fit may be a school you have not yet heard of right now. Students start their freshman year by taking career interest inventories and creating four-year plans of study. Through those tools and research they can come up with a list and apply to college the first semester of their senior year.

But she cautioned even high performers need to give themselves options. Ivy league schools are a reach for everyone because of supply and demand. For example Stanford has nearly 40,000 applicants and chooses about 2,000. Some can cost $50,000 a year.

Rihana has been offered scholarships. Sierra has financial help for students connecting them to federal Pell grants and private scholarships. D-2, can provide students up to $2,500 for the first year of college through the Harrison Foundation. Sierra High School has an alliance with Colorado Statue University in Fort Collins, that can provide $10,000 if a student is accepted there.

For now, Rihana has a lot more work to do. Tuition installments are due at many schools in just a few short weeks.

In a sort of a reverse process, she is is narrowing the choices down to a few that fit best with her desire to study psychology and theater.

But doing it that way is OK, said her counselor Hall. What is important that she is going to get there.

Rihana, who is from a single parent family, noted she will be the first to graduate from college. “I fell blessed that I have this opportunity.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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