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Learning experience: Students discover college choices

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Simion Spell opens a University fo Chapel Hill brochure during the Career Fair at the Convention Center Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, October 19, 2017


For some high schoolers, Wednesday’s Pitt County College Fair was a chance to confirm what they already knew about college admissions. For others, however, it was a crash course on the intricacies involved.

Prospective first generation college students oftentimes are not afforded the first-hand knowledge that can be passed along by family members. From admission requirements, to financial aid applications, to proof of state residency, the process can be a whirlwind.

“Some come blindly into this, not knowing what it’s going to take to get into an institution,” said event organizer Amy Denton, who also is a regional representative for the College Foundation of North Carolina. “They’re not prepared, and sometimes by their senior year it’s too late.”

More than 1,000 students from both public and private schools in and around Pitt County came to the Greenville Convention Center to learn more about post-high school educational opportunities offered by the more than 50 colleges in attendance. 

Jackeline Marin, a North Pitt High School senior, wants to study art in college, starting at Pitt Community College before applying for ECU or an art institute in the state. Though she would be the first person in her family to attend college, the importance of higher learning came from within her home.

“You can get somewhere in life,” Marin said of college. “I really want to make my parents proud. I’m going to be the first in my family to go to college and I really want to make mom proud for all the efforts she made.”

Marin is just one of many in Pitt County who are hoping to become the first in their family to go to college. Admin Valdez, like Marin and countless others, hopes to reach the first-generation milestone after high school. Family also has been a driving force for him. 

“My parents have encouraged me a lot,” he said. “They say, ‘You should go to college and get a good career.’ They wish the best for me because they never had the opportunity. My mom and dad dropped out in probably middle school or so and went straight to work, so they really want me to go to college and succeed in life.”

A junior at North Pitt, Valdez used the college fair as an opportunity to get a head start on the college application process. Though his goal is to go to ECU and study medicine, he said the college fair gave him an opportunity to talk to institutions that he previously was unaware of.

“It’s just looking into different colleges and seeing what’s available for me, opening my eyes towards things,” he said. “I really want to go to ECU, but looking at different colleges helps me choose what actually fits me.”

Both juniors and seniors from area high schools were bused to the convention center where flyers, brochures and information packets were stacked on the tables for students to gather.

Representatives from the colleges manned the tables to answer any questions that the students had.

“It’s definitely nice to have people to talk to,” John Paul II High School senior Caleb Flowers said. “Everyone has the brochures, those aren’t hard to come by, but nothing substitutes talking to a real person.”

For Flowers, attending college is his first choice. He has already applied for a QuestBridge scholarship, which offers an all-inclusive full-ride scholarship to one of 39 colleges.

Though Flowers plans to apply to Princeton, Duke, Brown, Dartmouth, William & Mary and more, he said learning about what colleges are available locally was a valuable opportunity.

“It’s eye-opening just how many colleges are around,” he said. “I don’t see all the ones I want to apply for here, but there are a few.”

Denton, who helped organize the event and had a table set up to talk in-depth with parents and students about financial aid, said that discovering opportunities that are not as talked about as some of the state’s more well-known universities was the ultimate goal.

The impressive turnout, she said, was just icing on the cake.

“I have some students come up to me and say that they’re just now finding about some of these colleges, some that they haven’t originally thought about,” she said. “So it’s exciting that they’ve been excited about discovering new colleges.”

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.