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Northern high school students encouraged to pursue higher education

High school students play “Show Me the Money — financial aid Jeopardy” at the College Access Convention at White Mountains Community College last week. Mati Brown. (click for larger version)
November 10, 2010
On Friday, November 5, North Country high school students, primarily sophomores, were given an opportunity to find out about furthering their education. This was the third year for the College Access Convention, held at the White Mountains Community College in Berlin. Nearly 200 students attended the convention, coming from Colebrook Academy, Groveton High School, Kennett High School (Conway), Littleton High School, Lin-Wood High School (Lincoln-Woodstock), Profile High School (Bethlehem), and Pittsburg High School. Berlin and Gorham High Schools did not attend.

According to Scott Power, "It is very important for high school students to begin thinking early about college. As sophomores, it is a critical time in their development, both to enroll in necessary college-prep courses and to begin focusing on their interest areas. It's never too early to begin planning for college. Students that attend this convention get a head start in preparing for their future goals."

The convention was put together because high schools in the North Country are typically underrepresented in colleges and they do not receive the same level of help and information that high school students in the southern part of the state get. The convention is meant to show North Country high school students that college is a possibility and that the avenues to getting there are not as blocked as they may think.

In 2010, the New Hampshire College and University Council (NHCUC), as well as the Campus Compact for New Hampshire (CCNH), received a "community impact grant" from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation so they could continue to host this event and help students who were interested find their way to college. Tom Horgan, President of NHCUC, said "It is critical for students from North Country high schools to hear the same message as students from other parts of the state. College is a realistic aspiration and one that has become a necessity with the shift in workforce development up north."

Berlin was chosen as the site for the convention because, according to the 2000 Census, out of the 33,019 individuals who were 25 years or older in Coös County, while 9,770 of them were high school graduates (or equivalent) only 5,487 had some college or an Associates degree. Also, only 1,897 (8.1%) had earned a Bachelor's degree, and only 902 (3.8%) had earned a master's degree or higher. Compared with the rest of New Hampshire, where 18.7% of people 25 years or older hold bachelor degrees and 10% hold a master's degree or higher, the numbers for Coös were quite low. The convention aims to change those numbers and get them more in line with the rest of the state.

At the convention itself, students came in and were briefed by Scott Power, director of New Hampshire Scholars Initiative that is part of NHCUC (one of the event organizers), and Katharine Eneguess, President of WMCC. Afterwards, there were three workshops running in concurrent sessions of 40 minutes each. The students were separated into three groups and taken to each of these workshops.

One of the workshops was Show Me the Money for College, an interactive Jeopardy-style game, hosted by Brian Walker. In that workshop, students were given tips about college costs, financial aid, scholarships available to them, and other financial information.

Another workshop was a student panel presentation, where four students from colleges in the state were answering the students' questions. The college students were Christina Cassella, a graduate from the University of New Hampshire – Manchester, Caitlin Cassella, Christina's younger sister and an enrolled student at UNH – Durham, and then Tessa Bunnell and Sara Nadeau, both students at WMCC. The students were asked about things ranging from how their first year was (with responses ranging from stressful to fun) to if you're too old to go to college, to which they were given the response that it is never too late to go to college, but, according to Sara, "The longer you are out of high school, the harder it'll be to get back into it [school]."

There was also a question of how to choose a major. Caitlin said "I chose my major based on my long term goals…I want to go to the Peace Corps afterwards…I am a double major in English and International Relations, the English major is in case my Peace Corps plans don't work out."

The third event was a series of three "round table" style discussions, where the group of students separated into three smaller groups and went in 10 minutes intervals to the different speakers, including Kevin Justice of Keene State College, Mark Desmarais of WMCC, and Mike Clark of Colby Sawyer.

Mr. Justice spoke about the importance of one's transcript. He emphasized that students who want to attend college should take a challenging course load to show that they are capable of taking classes seriously and so that they will develop study skills necessary for college. He explained, "A lot of students don't take math because they don't see the importance, but those classes teach you study skills for progressing through your education." He also said that foreign language classes are good to take as well because they give the student a "different type of experience."

Mr. Desmarais, who is an admission director at WMCC, talked about what admissions people are looking for and encouraged students to talk with their parents, guidance counselors, and people they know who are going, or have gone to, college. He also said that students should think about what they want to do and start looking at schools that have programs they are interested in. He said that they should then study the admissions criteria so they can get a jump start on the process.

Mr. Clark, the admission counselor from Colby Sawyer, talked about how clubs and activities can help with the admissions process. He said they show what students will bring to the campus. He also said that students should find out what criteria — academically — is most important to the schools they look at. He also recommended starting at a two year school and then transferring to a four year school because it can save money, give the student time to think about the major they want or the direction they want to take, it can ease them into the experience by allowing them to be close to home, and finally, it can improve your grades, making your transcript look much better.

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