Summit County students chart path toward college
Park Record intern
With life-altering decisions on the line, seniors at Summit County high schools this fall are finishing up the college application process and readying to start their next chapter.
For most of them, the process started in their junior years, when they began researching colleges and visiting campuses that sparked their interest. Many say that touring colleges is one of the biggest factors they consider because it allows them to see if a college is the best fit for them.
South Summit High School senior Kailee Freeman, for instance, said a campus visit heavily influenced her decision to apply to Utah State University.
“The tour helped me visualize myself at that school and helped me determine whether or not it would be a good fit for me,” Freeman said. “It was so fun and I believe it is a vital part when it comes to picking a college.”
Likewise, Park City High School senior Chris Bratcher was impressed by the amount of information he took from his tours at the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“Being in the campus and seeing the dorms made it way easier to picture myself being there, and really getting a feel of the classrooms was phenomenal because I could understand the sizes of classes I’d be in,” Bratcher said.
In their senior year, students take their final campus tours and finish up college-entrance exams, then move on to the application process. With the ease of online applications and the Common Application website, which allows students to apply to multiple schools at once, many students apply to several colleges. Some students in Summit County, though, apply to only a few.
North Summit High School senior Tracyn Otterness, as an example, applied only to the University of Utah.
“There is a clear best college to suit my ambitions, with a top-three program in the specific field I’m going into and in state tuition,” Otterness said.
Amy Regan, South Summit High School’s college access and readiness adviser, said she urges students to apply to multiple colleges.
“It’s a good idea to apply to two or three schools because in most cases money is a consideration,” she said. “If you apply for different schools, you may get a different financial aid package from each one.”
Some students prefer to apply to several colleges, including at least one backup school that provides guaranteed admission. Others, such as Park City High School senior Josie Froehlich, say applying to a stretch school, meaning one that may be harder to get into, is also important.
Froehlich said that allows her to discover the top end of her academic opportunities.
“By identifying and reaching for my stretch school, it allowed me to find my ceiling and complete the application and decision process with no regrets,” said Froehlich, who applied to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of North Carolina as her stretch schools.
Figuring out how to pay for college is also important, said Park City High School scholarship adviser Pepper Elliot. She encourages all students to apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. And because the FAFSA application process can be overwhelming, Elliot does everything she can to help out.
“I send out emails with information on how to fill it out and all the information that you need,” she said. “It takes about 40 minutes to fill out if you have your information with you, and it’s not that difficult if you just sit down and give yourself time to do it.”
After finishing admissions applications and FAFSA, students wait anywhere from weeks to months to hear back from schools about their status. Then, students who are accepted to multiple schools weigh different factors to make a decision. According to Elliot, many students receive emails every day from colleges pushing them to confirm that they’ll be enrolling.
In making the decision, students weigh factors such as location, major, size, sports, graduation rate and student-to-faculty ratio — and, of course, cost.
While many students in Summit County have parental support in paying for college, Elliot said cost may be even more important for students relying on scholarships, loans and grants.
“For example, if you’re planning on becoming a teacher, it’s probably not the best idea to be going to a school that’s going to give you a $200,000 loan when you can be getting a great teaching degree right here in the state for a lot less money,” Elliot said.
However, Regan said a student’s desired major is the most important factor.
“We want to tell the kids, don’t pick where you want to go, pick what you want to do. It can make all the difference,” she said.
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Over the next five years, Katz will donate the money to nonprofits participating in Vail Resorts’ youth access efforts that serve major metropolitan areas.