Memphis students to join Tennessee State University

Waiting for college acceptance letters can be an anxious time for high school seniors. But for incoming Tennessee State University freshmen Meaghen Jones and Jayla Woods, it was a time of extraordinary celebration. 

The students, both seniors at Whitehaven High School in Shelby County, were accepted into hundreds of colleges — Jones got 213 acceptances and Woods got 160.

And, they received a bundle in financial offers, as well. Jones received $10.7 million in scholarship offers from those 213 schools. Woods got $8.9 million in offers.

It was a feat made possible with tools including the Common Application and the Common Black College Application.

The switch from paper to online applications has made it easier for students to apply to more schools, said Brett Evans, assistant professor of public policy and higher education at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. 

“We’ve seen a trend over the last 10-20 years where there’s been an increasing number of college applications that a high school student submits on average,” said Evans.

Still, the Memphis students stand out based on the number of applications sent, Evans said.

The application process

Some Middle Tennessee high school counselors say students apply to only a handful of colleges.

Christy Walker, a counselor at Mt. Juliet High School in Wilson County, said students usually apply to about five colleges. 

Williamson County Schools’ Counseling Specialist Becky Mitchell said she estimates students apply to about three colleges. 

And Connie Hensley, a college and career counselor at Pearl Cohn High School in Nashville, said students at the school apply to about five or six colleges. 

Neither Mitchell or Hensley said they have had extreme scholarship awards this year like the Memphis students.

Hensley said staff encourages students to narrow down their list of colleges for several reasons. Applying to fewer colleges can save students money and give them more time to craft the best application they can, she said. 

“My students who have done lots and lots of applications, sometimes they do it for the sake of doing it. When all along, they knew what their top three or four or five colleges were,” Hensley said. “We do not place limits on students – we just ask them to be thoughtful on the front end.”

Students are advised to apply to safety, target and reach schools, said Ashley Sievers, a school counselor at Wilson Central High School of Wilson County.

A safety college is a school that a student would definitely get admitted to, a target college is where a student would  have a good chance of getting accepted and a reach college is a selective school and might be a far reach for acceptance.

“We don’t want any student to be left without an egg in their basket as far as post-secondary choices,” Sievers said.

Students who apply to more colleges can compare more financial aid offers, Evans said. But this can still be done by applying to as few as five or six schools, instead of hundreds, he said. 

Academic Signing Day

Whitehaven High School is a high-performing school in Memphis. The school has successfully established a culture where it’s “cool” to talk about college acceptance and scholarships, according to Shelby County Schools’ media relations staff. 

Since Whitehaven High Principal Vincent J. Hunter launched Academic Signing Day several years ago to highlight classroom achievement, the school’s seniors have raked in big bucks in scholarships from the schools nationwide that are courting them.

This year is no exception.

Sarolyn Fox, 18, who will attend the University of Tennessee at Martin, received $8.9 million in scholarship offers from about 200 schools — at least one school in each state.

“If it weren’t for them (the school’s guidance counselors), I probably would never have applied to as many schools as I did,” Fox said.

“The counselors made sure we were part of the school’s optional program,” Jones said, “which boosted our GPAs and prepared us for the ACT and SAT.”

At Pearl Cohn High, staff work with students on their post-graduate plans as early as the ninth grade. 

“We help identify what they’re interested in, what they want to study and what kind of school they want to go to,” Hensley said. 

Eighty-nine percent of this year’s graduating class left with at least one acceptance letter from a two- or four-year school or the military, Hensley said.

Choosing a school

Out of hundreds of options, Jones and Woods chose TSU. 

It’s no accident that TSU came looking for Jones and Woods.

The Nashville school has targeted high achievers as a way to improve the university’s retention and graduation rates.

TSU President Glenda Glover announced sweeping changes in 2016 to raise admission standards aimed at attracting the best and brightest students.

The school’s “Experience TSU” initiative seeks out top students from four specific markets — Memphis; Nashville; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta. 

“I have always wanted to attend an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities),” said Woods, who wants to be a sports dietitian.

“I want to do a double major in nutrition and athletic training, and TSU will let me do that,” she said. 

Reach Melanie Balakit at [email protected] 

 

 

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