By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 2, 2012
Two Marist School students are sharing their heartaches and triumphs as they apply to college, from rejection letters to concerns about a college price tag.
Eric Eichelberger and Clare Tiarsmith are bloggers for “The Choice,” an education blog at The New York Times. They are among eight high school seniors writing for a section called, “The Envelope, please.”
Students thinking about college and their parents can read it “to know little things to watch out for,” said Eric, who wishes he knew enough to trim the number of colleges where he applied. He filled out applications to 13 colleges and universities.
The Times education blog started in 2009 as “online companion and resource to those of you running this gauntlet—particularly high-school juniors and seniors, as well as their parents and counselors, and even admissions officers,” according to the first blog post.
“The Envelope, please” blog relies on the seniors from around the country to write an occasional essay about their college search, from late fall to the end of the school year. This year’s class of student bloggers attends four schools: Brooklyn (N.Y.) Tech; Minnetonka (Minn.) High School; Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High School, and Marist.
Patty Montague, a college counselor at Marist, said blogs focused on college admissions give parents and students important details about the changing admissions process versus when the parents went to college.
“I’d think it would help, especially when it’s their first child going to college,” she said.
Eric and Clare wore letter jackets to a recent interview at the school. Both are active in the drama program with roles in an upcoming performance of “Starmites” and are leaders on campus. He attends Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, and Clare is a member of St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs. Both have older siblings who attended college.
Readers learned in Eric’s first post about his interest in “a quirky school” with “a sense of tightknit community and cooperation” where he may study film.
The students write the 500-word essays nearly monthly. And a Google Doc of their college choices is posted so readers can follow their admissions progress.
There is one ‘X’ in Eric’s rejected column. He didn’t make the cut to Deep Springs College, a free, two-year liberal arts college where students tackle academics along with farm labor. His disappointment lifted when he learned that he was accepted into Yale University.
Clare said she wants readers to learn from her experience. Spring visits to colleges “freaked me out,” she said, so she put it off. She scrambled in the fall to squeeze in college visits, applications and schoolwork.
“I’m hoping to encourage people to get started early,” she said.
Her first blog focused on wanting to study outside the Southeast, her interest in majoring in psychology with a focus on aiding veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Another important option for her is study abroad opportunities.
Part of the blogging experience is the comments left by readers. Eric’s first column received three dozen comments and some critical when he wrote that New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I., may be too provincial for him compared with Atlanta.
Clare hasn’t gotten as many comments, but she’s pleased to hear from some juniors applauding her goals.
“A lot of people have said, ‘It’s so great what you want to do.’ It’s cool to see how people are thinking the same thing,” she said.
The students were nominated for the effort by the school’s counseling staff, along with the English faculty and the school administration.
Both will be exploring the financial side of the college equation with its skyrocketing tuition costs and what that means to their college decision.
Almost 66 percent of freshmen reported that the “current economic situation significantly affected my college choice,” according to a recent survey called “The American Freshman: National Norms 2010.”
Students who earned college degrees in 2011 had the highest estimated average debt at nearly $23,000, according to FinAid.org.
It has become a real factor for Clare now that she’s been accepted at Northeastern University. The university annual tuition is around $51,000, according to its website. She received a $16,000 scholarship, but she said the gap is still too large.
Clare wrote in her application to be a blogger, “I know my parents don’t want to retire at 90” to cover her education expenses. She hopes her experience of needing scholarships and worrying about the money will make her blog appealing.
Eric applied to several Ivy League schools, where he said many offer need-based scholarships only. His family’s income is too high for that financial support.
“That’s the situation for a lot of kids, especially at Marist. Your family is this gray area,” said Eric, who plans on applying for merit scholarships.
In fact, he was already thinking about a post focused on tips for students searching for scholarships. College applications are only half the effort for students because it’s as important to keep scholarship deadlines in mind, he said.
“If you wanted, you could probably write a scholarship essay every night. There are so many out there,” he said.
The goal is to write at least once a month about the process, updating the spreadsheet as the application decisions appear in their email in-box.
“For seniors, they are going through this with us,” said Eric. “It’s nice for them to be able to relate to us.”