Saturday December 1, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Even before sending in a single application, Nicole Comalli has already been accepted to the college of her choice. She’s also been accepted to a handful of other schools, all without leaving the confines of Mount Anthony Union High School.

Through the fall the high school has had admissions representatives from five colleges visit the Bennington campus to review student transcripts, letters of recommendations, and interview high school seniors, and then offer on-the-spot acceptance to many students.

"It’s less stressful knowing they are coming to you instead of you going to them," said Comalli, who hopes to study dental hygiene after graduating next spring.

On Friday, Comalli interviewed with Susan Fredette, assistant director of admissions for Vermont Technical College. She has also spoken with representatives from Berkshire Community College, Southern Vermont College and Hudson Valley Community College, which she said is her top choice at this point because of its size, location and dental hygiene program. Lyndon State College has also visited Mount Anthony to offer on-the-spot enrollment this fall.

For Comalli, the visits have been a way to ask questions she did not find answers to through college Websites or brochures, and also a way to meet connections she can stay in contact with through her college search process. She has already had back-and-forth conversations with the admissions representatives from CCV and Hudson Valley, interviewing with them earlier this fall.

During the interviews, which generally take 10 to 25 minutes, the college representatives take time to scan students’ transcripts and read the letters of recommendation and other materials. Meeting in person also allows them the opportunity to ask and answer questions, offer advice, and determine whether a student meets the college’s acceptance standards.

Because Comalli was specifically looking at acceptance into Vermont Tech’s dental hygiene program, which is capped at 24 students each year, Comalli was told she would have to wait until mid-March to hear whether she is accepted. Fredette said the program based in Williston makes decisions on March 1 and sends acceptance letters shortly thereafter.

In Comalli’s 20-minute interview with Fredette she asked questions regarding how many applicants there are to the dental hygiene program each year, what things there are to do around the campus area, how accessible teachers are outside of class, whether freshmen can bring vehicles and other inquires. Fredette also talked about free tutoring services that are available to all students and recommended Comalli have her chemistry teacher next semester send an e-mail to admissions in February regarding how she is doing in the class. Because chemistry is an important class for dental hygiene students to take prior to college, but Comalli will not have a final grade by the March 1 deadline, Fredette said any indication of how Comalli is doing will help during the selection process.

While interviews are not required for admissions, Fredette said they provide an opportunity to get to know applicants and find out more about them. In one case Friday, Fredette said there was a student who did poorly earlier on in high school but had greatly improved his grades in recent semesters. That is something that would have been questioned had the application been sent in the mail, but in meeting with the student Fredette was able to allow the student to explain the reason behind his grades.

"This last student, early on in high school, was not doing well, especially two semesters were not good at all, and then all of a sudden his picture totally changed. So I asked him why and he shared with me he wasn’t doing well and there was an event in his life that kind of made him wake up," Fredette said. "If you’re just looking at a paper file in your office, you’re like, "OK, so what’s up with this person? Whereas today this student had an opportunity here today to tell me what happened."

"If I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to him then you might wonder if it might happen again. I don’t think, in this case, after just a few minutes of conversation, it will go back that way. It’s good to know," she said.

Another benefit for both the colleges and students is that sometimes students who may not otherwise apply do so just because the college is at the school. Sometimes, Lisa Harrington-Reddin, a Mount Anthony guidance counselor who organizes the college visits, said the student will find out that college they otherwise would not have applied to is a great fit.

"There was one student (during a previous school year) who never wanted to go to college at all but he decided very last minute, ‘I want to apply somewhere, I think Hudson Valley would be a really good bet,’ and he came back and was like, ‘I got accepted. Why did they accept me?’ and I said because you’re a good student, you can do this stuff and if you want to go there’s a place out there for you," Harrington-Reddin recalled. "He ended up going back applying to a couple other schools and being accepted as well. It’s kind of a confidence booster to get one out of the way."

Another benefit Harrington-Reddin pointed out is that application fees that often range from $35 to $65 are waived during on-site visits.

Watching admissions representatives scan transcripts as they talk to students makes the process appear abbreviated during on-the-spot enrollment, but Fredette said even if she were reviewing applications in her office each one generally takes less than 25 minutes unless there are unique circumstances. The criteria that are considered, she said, do not change when looking at potential students at their schools.

For Comalli, the on-site visits are just a part of her search process, but she said they have been instrumental for her to learn more about potential colleges. One of the best parts, she said, is knowing immediately whether she is accepted instead of waiting day after day for a letter in the mail.

As for Friday’s interview, she said, the fact that she will have to wait until March to find out whether she is accepted into Vermont Tech’s dental hygiene program could be a deal breaker.

"At first I thought that you would find out today if you were accepted into the dental hygiene ... but I guess I have to wait until March," Comalli.

During her interview with Hudson Valley, Comalli said she was told the college would let her know by January or February whether she would be accepted into their dental hygiene program, but that she has a good chance of being accepted. Having a college picked out by January would be ideal for her. "It would be a lot less stressful," she said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi