Inside the Admissions Process
GAA workshop offers advice, answers for college-bound students
Linda Pace ’ 77 drove her 14-year-old son,
Gerald, to Chapel Hill from their home
in Atlanta so he would hear what she’d
been telling him all along: Grades count. So
do SAT scores. Get involved and challenge
yourself in high school. And pay attention
“I wanted him, as he starts his freshman
year in high school, to see what colleges
expect of him,” Pace said. “I wanted him to
hear it from the experts, not just mom or
Mother and son were among the nearly
120 parents and teens who attended the
2007 Alumni Admissions Forum sponsored
by the GAA. The crowd, casually but carefully dressed in a first-impressions-count
manner, listened attentively to the presenters: a University admissions director, a
scholarship and financial aid expert, and a
counselor who readies high school students
to apply to college. The daylong forum at
the Friday Center in June included a special section on admission to Carolina and a
tour of the UNC campus. Participants even
got a taste of how difficult decision-making
is for admissions directors by reading several
mock applications and selecting who would
be admitted, awarded scholarships, wait-list-ed or turned down.
“The admission process is becoming more
and more unpredictable,” said Barbara Polk
’ 79, Carolina’s senior associate director of
undergraduate admissions, one of the three
presenters. “More parents than students are
scared and anxious about the process.”
The annual forum aims to ease some of
those anxieties with information, detailed and
specific, and sometimes obvious but overlooked. Is it better to risk a B in an AP
course or go for the sure A in a less rigorous
class? How important are extracurricular
activities? Does a recommendation letter from
a well-known person who doesn’t know
you well carry more weight than one from
a teacher who thinks the world of you?
“Everyone has a story of some highly
accomplished student who didn’t get in to
a top school, and they want to know why,”
said presenter Karen Kimberley, director of
college counseling at Porter-Gaud School
in Charleston, S.C. “The decisions are not
arbitrary. It’s a competitive environment,
and there are other wonderful students.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell a parent that.”
Finding the right fit between student
and school increases the chance for acceptance. Polk and Kimberley walked participants through searching for schools on college board Web sites.
Yolanda Paylor, a rising senior at Orange
High School, was one of a dozen high
school students that Seletha Pherribo
Bumphus, career counselor at Durham
Technical College, brought to the forum.
She found the college search information
the most helpful. “I learned about entering
different parameters when doing a search to
make sure I can get the options I’m looking for,” Paylor said.
Tom and Leigh Stiles ’ 85 came from
Richmond,Va., with their oldest daughter,
Laura, 15. They left with a timeline and plenty of information on financial aid. “We didn’t know what to expect as far as the application process, and what we need to be
doing to prepare Laura,” Leigh Stiles said.
Austin Shaw, a rising junior at Wake
Forest-Rolesville High School, brought his
parents to the forum. He sat at the front
table, listened intently and took notes. “I
want to know the details that sometimes go
unnoticed,” he said.
A detail that doesn’t go unnoticed, especially by parents, is how to pay for college.
After the teens left to hear a panel of UNC
students talk about selecting a college and
adjusting to life on campus,Vince Amoroso
talked with their parents about funding
higher education. Amoroso, UNC’s deputy
director of scholarships and student aid, discussed need-based and non-need-based
financial aid, and the tools for calculating the
expected family contribution. He gave tips
on ferreting out merit scholarships outside of
the university and their unique application
processes. He reminded parents that “higher
education is a business like anything else.”
Selecting a college is a family process,
Polk said. Parents need to determine what
the family can realistically afford, but students
need to own the application process and
make the ultimate decision of where to go.
“Students, it’s your life and your choice,”
Polk said. “Parents, swallow hard and accept
your child’s choice.” ■
— Nancy Oates
■ High school performance should
show that the student can do college-level work.
■ Extracurricular activities should show
how you follow your passions.
■ Don’t take the SAT or ACT before
■ Colleges don’t view a “gap year” as a
Selecting a School:
■ Apply to a reach school, a target
school and a safety school.
■ College reputation and ranking can
be overrated; find a school that fits.
■ You can make a big school smaller, but
you can’t make a small school bigger.
■ Use a college search Web site to find
schools that fit your criteria.
■ Students should strive to show parents that they are responsible and
capable of making good decisions —
including in the choice of schools.
■ Admissions officers want to see a passion and commitment to extracurricular activities more than a wide range
of things in which one has dabbled.
■ The most effective recommendation
letters come from people who know
the student and the student’s work
well and believe in the student’s ability