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Before she had even started her senior year of high school, Danielle Wheeler was focused on her freshman year of college. Wheeler visited eight colleges this past summer, narrowed the list to four or five, and pared it down even more after a second visit. In August, Wheeler applied to Berea College and Morehead State University. Accepted to both schools, Wheeler is among 25 other Carroll County High School seniors so far who have already gotten in to college.
Seniors like Wheeler who have received their college admissions letters by Jan. 13, 2012, will be recognized at the school’s Jan. 20 academic pep rally. As part of the new “I Got In” program, the seniors will receive a certificate that says, “I got in to college” and a t-shirt that says, “College Approved.”
“In college admissions, the early bird gets the worm, the place in line, and more importantly, the opportunity for scholarships,” said Sheree Richter, guidance counselor at Carroll County High School. “If you get your application in late, you are not even considered [for scholarships].”
Richter and Principal John Leeper, who have helped graduates in both 2010 and 2011 receive more than $1 million in college scholarships, are emphasizing the importance of seniors applying early to college as a key to maximizing scholarship opportunities. Richter said those students who apply early to college get first choice in financial assistance, room assignments, and scheduling for classes.
Richter added that at some schools (EKU, NKU, WKU, and Morehead), eligible students automatically qualify for some scholarships simply by getting their application in early.
“All they have to do is make sure they get their applications in on time,” Richter said.
Richter said that she will post copies of seniors’ acceptance letters, trimmed in the colors of the school to which the student has been accepted, on a bulletin board. She hopes that seeing the letters will motivate other seniors who have been procrastinating to fill out their admissions and scholarship applications over the Christmas break.
“We have some brilliant minds here in Carroll County who have an extremely bright future, but sometimes paying for that college is a barrier that gets in the way,” Leeper said. “Our local community steps up in a big way with providing scholarships, but there are a lot of scholarships outside of Carroll County that our students miss out on because they do not apply early enough. We have to start the application process in August.”
Richter said that Jan. 15 is the application deadline for about 90 percent of Kentucky colleges and that colleges set their application dates in January and February because they have limited space on campus and need time to plan for the students who will be enrolled in the fall of the upcoming year. The University of Kentucky, for example, had a freshman class of 6,200 in the fall of 2011 and, according to Richter, “has run out of space.”
In addition to applying to college, Richter said that one of the most important steps in the process of a senior getting in to college involves applying for financial assistance. She will hold a work shop for parents of seniors and juniors in January to provide information about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). She advises all parents of seniors entering college to fill out the FAFSA in January or early February. More information can be found at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
“The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to get financial assistance,” Richter said. “If you wait until March, you may not get the money.”
Wheeler, who has qualified for over $100,000 in scholarships for room, board, tuition and books at Berea College, said that applying early to college has lots of advantages.
“One advantage is less stress,” Wheeler said. “At the end of the year, things get really hectic, so it’s nice to have this out of the way.”
Jacob Becraft, who recently earned his Eagle Scout Badge after participating in the Boy Scouts since first grade, said that filling out the paper work for college “is nothing” compared to the paper work involved in earning his Eagle Scout Badge.
“Having the application done now allows you to focus more on scholarships to pay for college,” said Becraft, who has been offered a $9,500 renewable trustee scholarship at Kentucky Wesleyan.
For Wheeler and Becraft, it literally pays to apply early to college.
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.