Seminar to help clarify college process

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For many college-bound students, the process of getting in and getting there can be daunting.

There are applications, essays, campus visits, financial aid forms, waiting lists and many other confusing aspects of getting into college. If a student is the first child in his family to go to college, both he and his parents are navigating unfamiliar waters. Even if his parents went to college, the process has changed a lot in the past two decades, said Don Birmingham, director of college counseling at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

“It’s a rapidly changing landscape,” Birmingham said. “People need to understand the process.”

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To try to help the community grasp the process of selecting, applying and paying for college, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s Office of College Counseling is having a college admissions workshop tonight, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Riverfront Golf Club, 5200 River Club Drive in North Suffolk. The event is free and open to all area high school students and their parents.

The college counseling staff at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy will review such important topics as understanding current trends, preparing resumes, writing application essays, narrowing the college list and applying for financial aid.

Birmingham said that almost all colleges are receiving increasing numbers of applications each year; therefore, it is important to know the process and make yourself stand out.

“A lot of these smaller schools want to know that you are really interested in them,” Birmingham said. “They’re going to look at whether or not you’re in touch with their admissions personnel. You can’t just send in your application and wait anymore.”

The seminar also will cover criteria for getting into college. Birmingham said the difficulty of a student’s courses and grades earned go a long way.

“The first and foremost thing is always the transcript,” he said.

In addition, standardized test scores are a big part of the puzzle. Many people are choosing to take the ACT test now, if the school allows it, Birmingham said. Admissions personnel also look for involvement in school and the community, besides the course schedule, Birmingham said.

“They want to see students being engaged and being active students on their campus,” Birmingham said, so they are more likely to pick someone who shows the same qualities while in high school.

Perhaps the most confusing part of college admissions to many students is financial aid, Birmingham said.

“It’s confused a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of people are eligible, but don’t follow the steps they need to take to (get the money).”

Many schools offer money that simply is not being taken advantage of, Birmingham said. For example, Old Dominion University holds a “priority deadline” of Dec. 1 for students who have achieved a certain grade point average and standardized test score. Students who are admitted under priority admissions receive an automatic scholarship if they decide to attend ODU.

“They keep a lot of that money every year because people don’t apply by that priority deadline,” Birmingham said.

The seminar also will cover topics such as campus visits and narrowing the list. There will be a PowerPoint presentation, but there also will be plenty of time to ask questions, Birmingham said.

For more information, call 539-8789 ext. 3322 or visit