Manassas Journal Messenger | Home or away?

That perfect college might be out of state

Many students choose to attend college close to home. There’s a lot to be said for being close to family, friends and the familiar.

But others want to get away.

A student shouldn’t let geography interfere in his choice of college. Whether you find the perfect college far from home or one just over the state line, it’s possible to be successful in the quest for admission and financial aid .

Above all, a student’s academic record still is key.

And while some universities favor students from their home states, many admissions counselors say they look for the same information on applications from out-of-state students as they do from in-state.

Review is the same

“In terms of the admissions process, we don’t review students differently if they are from in- or out-of-state,” says Patrick Winter, senior associate director of admissions at the University of Georgia in Athens.

“Students still need to be competitive. Overwhelmingly the decision is still based on grades, curriculum and test scores.”

Jason McGlothlin, admissions counselor at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, echoes, “I am looking for a well-rounded student with lots of extracurricular activities and an emphasis on community service.”

But admissions reps still look for cues that a student can bring more to the institution.

Look for diversity

Mandy Butterworth, director of recruitment at King College in Bristol, Tenn., says the college wants to see diversity in its student body. “We feel it is healthy to have students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

“Our students get their education from the classroom, but also from the people around them. They can learn so much from the student population.”

Winter said that approximately 15 percent to 17 percent of this year’s freshman class at the University of Georgia is from outside the state. “We love to have stu- dents coming here from outside the state of Georgia and not just for the out-of-state tuition. We want our students to be exposed to different people.”

If you’re coming from an underrepresented region of the country, your chances of being noticed increase, but only if past academic success is there.

“Certainly we are looking for geographic diversity, but even a student from Mars still would need strong academic skills,” says Winter.

Attend fairs, make contacts

When applying to an in-state school, a high school senior can safely assume that the admissions office is familiar with his current high school. But that’s not necessarily the case with a school that’s far away.

“It helps to get to know someone in the admissions office,” says Christine Mica, director of university admissions at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

She advises students to attend college fairs and get to know the admissions representatives there. “Always ask for a business card when you meet someone,” she says.

At Catholic and many other universities, admissions representatives are organized by territory. A counselor (or several) is assigned to a particular part of the country. “They visit the schools, they know the guidance counselors. They will do the interview with the student, read the file and put a face to a name,” says Mica.

She advises applicants to develop a relationship with the representative. And she hopes students will feel free to call the university throughout the academic year. “If something changes, if you win an award, get the lead in the play, you should contact your admissions counselor and update the application.”

Go for the interview

And if you happen to apply to a university where the admissions office is not as familiar with your high school as an in-state college might be, Mica advises students not to skip a face-to-face interview. “In the interview you get a chance to tell the counselor exactly what you can bring to the university.”

Winter said it helps the staff reading files when they are familiar with the student. “Again, the students have to be competitive, but if we know a student, it can allow one of our counselors to advocate for admittance, ” he says.

Many students shy away from out-of-state schools because they think they can’t afford them. But it can be worthwhile to explore various options.

Some public universities are exploring new programs. Winter noted that Georgia has frozen rates so that students will pay the same tuition for four years (with lower tuition, of course, for Georgia residents). “Newly enrolled students are locked into one tuition for four years. This was done to encourage on-time graduation and it’s been a real selling point for us,” he said.

Check about financing

Students should check with financial aid offices and mention the state grants that would be possible if the applicant attended an in-state school. Sometimes a grant can travel with the student, or financial aid offices can consider the loss of the grant when preparing financial aid packages, says Butterworth.

Check out various university Web sites for more information on tuition waivers, grants for out-of-state students and other options.

Steven Johnson, director of financial aid, scholarships and student employment at Howard University in Washington, noted that many students qualify for Pell and other grants. “Students should also explore external sources of funding, such as civic organizations,” he says. “There are lots of scholarship funds that go untapped.”

Johnson recommends looking at Web sites such as or for information.

TAG grants help

In Virginia, the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program offers an annual award of approximately $2,700 for Virginia residents attending undergraduate private colleges in the state. But some out-of-state schools will match that amount.

“Because we’re not in Virginia, but just over the state line, students would not have access to the TAG grant that helps make private college accessible,” says King College’s Butterworth. “We have a program where we give them a matching grant. It is automatically put in with the application and the student doesn’t have to do much else.”

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