Education

Adviser helps Mooresville students reach college

A sophomore at Chapel Hill, former Mooresville High student Rachel Maguire, 18, talks about her first year at UNC. The seniors at Mooresville High school celebrated their first "Decision Day" pep rally, on Friday, May 15, 2015. Students and facility members celebrated the fact that college applications from the school's students have risen 50 percent over the year before. With fun filled activities throughout the day, students were ask to wear t-shirts of the college they plan to attend this fall to today's event. Also seniors got a chance to hear from former students about their first year in college.
A sophomore at Chapel Hill, former Mooresville High student Rachel Maguire, 18, talks about her first year at UNC. The seniors at Mooresville High school celebrated their first "Decision Day" pep rally, on Friday, May 15, 2015. Students and facility members celebrated the fact that college applications from the school's students have risen 50 percent over the year before. With fun filled activities throughout the day, students were ask to wear t-shirts of the college they plan to attend this fall to today's event. Also seniors got a chance to hear from former students about their first year in college. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

For the past year, Amanda Miller has worked every day to help Mooresville High School’s seniors figure out how to apply for college – and how to pay for it.

So when the class of 2015 graduates on June 13, she might shed a tear or two. Mostly, though, she’s excited to see what the seniors do next. Many admit they would have different plans without her help.

“Students just don’t know what they don’t know. They know that they’re supposed to apply for scholarships, they don’t know how or where they come from,” Miller said.

Miller’s guidance is free of charge – not only for students and their families, but for the Mooresville Graded School District.

Miller is a member of the National College Advising Corps, and her work at Mooresville is paid for by a $10 million grant from the John M. Belk Endowment.

Senior Will Leitch will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall, but without Miller’s guidance, he said he would not have even applied.

“I hear people talking about how great Ms. Miller is at least two or three times a day in the hallway,” Leitch said.

The Belk Endowment grant is designed to place college advisers in rural N.C. high schools to help underrepresented students access post-secondary education, from apprenticeships or community college to four-year institutions.

Miller estimates at least 30 percent of Mooresville students attending college this year are first-generation college students.

At high schools without a dedicated college adviser, students can ask guidance counselors about the college process, but with emotional counseling and other responsibilities drawing their attention away, guidance counselors often don’t have time to develop college expertise.

“The counselors are really great,” senior Lindsey Jordan said. “But... it’s such a convoluted process that having that specialty person was super important.”

In the fall, Jordan will attend Elon University on a full scholarship, because, she said, Miller helped her find and complete scholarship applications.

“My main misgiving with Elon was the price,” Jordan said. “I come from a pretty low-income family, so she just kind of reassured me that I shouldn’t be deterred from Elon just because of the cost of it, and it ended up working out really well.”

That’s exactly what Miller wants: for her students to understand both where they can apply and what financial aid is available.

Nicole Hurd, founder and CEO of the National College Advising Corps, said the issues blocking underrepresented students from college are sometimes simple.

“Some of them are actually silly barriers, but they’re real barriers,” she said. “Stuff like the financial aid form being way too complicated.”

By May 8, 236 Mooresville students had completed the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA. That’s a 49 percent increase from last year, and Miller said students who have completed the FAFSA will almost definitely attend college.

Members of the National College Advising Corps serve for only two years. Next summer, Miller’s term will be up.

Sometimes, Hurd said, school districts take over the responsibility of paying advisers so they can stay at the same school. That possibility appeals to Miller.

“I want to serve students who can’t pay $125 an hour for college counseling,” she said.

Wester: 704-358-5169

Amanda Miller’s college tips:

▪ Apply to four to eight colleges. Miller recommends taking advantage of fee waivers and opportunities like College Application Week in November, when many colleges in North Carolina waive their application fees.

▪ Apply to a mix of “safe” schools where admission is very likely, “match” schools where the student seems qualified and “reach” schools where the student may have a smaller chance. Miller wants to “make it okay to be rejected from a college,” telling students that if they’re accepted everywhere they apply, they haven’t stretched far enough.

▪ Start looking for scholarships as soon as you start thinking about college. Applications for scholarships may be due before actual college applications.

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