Arlington Students Look Far, Wide for Perfect College Fit

by KRISTEN ARMSTRONG, Staff Writer       

(Sunday, April 15, 2007 8:15 PM EDT)

What colleges did most Arlington seniors apply to this year? Virginia schools were by far the most popular, but some students looked to out-of-state schools as an alternative.

Countywide, almost all students applying for colleges applied to at least one Virginia school, but the popular choices of out-of-state schools varied from high school to high school, students and administrators indicated.

At Yorktown High School, counselors Sara Pula and Lynette McCracken noticed that students were attracted to schools in the South. Guilford College and Elon University in North Carolina, College of Charleston in South Carolina and Auburn University in Alabama all attracted a good number of applicants.

“Schools like Auburn have a good reputation, good location, plus [students] can get in,” Pula said. “A lot of students want to go south.”

Wakefield High School students applying out of state were attracted to Guilford College as well, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania was a popular out-of-state application choice.

Of the H-B Woodlawn Program's 80 seniors, many were drawn to small liberal arts colleges in Ohio, such as the College of Wooster, Kenyon College and Denison University.

Washington-Lee High School counselor Kristin Shapiro saw a considerable number of seniors applying to schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia, such as the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Howard University, Georgetown University and George Washington University. Penn State and the University of North Carolina were also popular.

Why apply to an out-of-state school, when Virginia schools are cheaper and have good reputations?

For most students, the chance to live somewhere away from home, and to experience a new landscape and different people, were the key reasons to apply to an out-of-state school.

“I decided a college's reputation isn't as important to me as my experience,” said H-B Woodlawn senior Sophie Trick, who is hoping to attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. “I don't know what I want to do yet, and I want to be introduced to new ideas.”

“The point of going to college is to go to college and experience college, and you can't do that at home.” said Washington-Lee senior Klee Simmons, who will attend Georgia Tech in the fall.

Other reasons Arlington seniors applied outside Virginia were warmer locations, specific majors and, sometimes, just to see if they'd get accepted.

“I've always loved California,” said Washington-Lee senior Alice Massie, who is mulling whether to attend a college on the West Coast. “That coupled with the fact California has fantastic schools is why I applied.”

But she also has a Virginia option: the College of William and Mary.

“I applied to the University of Michigan because they have a great engineering program, but I also just wanted to apply for fun,” said Wakefield senior Thomas Phan, who recently was accepted to George Mason University.

Some students who applied out of state did it partly to bypass Virginia schools' selection process, which has gotten more and more competitive over the years, particularly for students form Northern Virginia.

“The competition for Virginia schools is so incredibly high. There are so few spots and so many applications,” said H-B principal Frank Haltiwanger. “Students with a 4.2 GPA and who are in lots of activities don't get in.”

Despite the increase in competition for spots at Virginia schools, counselors found that students were hesitant to apply out of state primarily for financial reasons, but also because they want to stay close to their parents and be near their friends.

“Financially, there has to be a good reason to go out of state, because Virginia has really good schools,” said Wakefield counselor Amy Shilo. “But I encourage [students], whenever possible, to get away from home. It's a great experience.”

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