College "Prep Rally" helps W.Va. students prepare for higher education

Oct 21, 2013

High school students across the state are getting help applying for college thanks to an initiative. The statewide college application and exploration week kicked off last week at Concord University.

Representing several different high schools from across the state, around two students filed into Concord University’s main auditorium last week to kick off the statewide initiative meant to encourage and help students apply for and attend college.

The event featured four speakers who each gave advice about the steps in the college application process, ranging from how to select a college suited to a student’s needs to important financial advice.

Melissa Gatusso helped coordinate the Prep Rally. She is a representative of GEAR-UP, which stands for “Gaining Early Aware and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs”.

She says this was not just for giving hints and pointers for prospective college students. It’s much more than that.

“The purpose of the College Prep Rally is to gather the seniors together and go through the admissions process with them," she said. "It will help them feel secure, they’ll be doing it as a group, there will be staff there to answer any questions. Taking that first step, applying to college and getting that first acceptance letter; it’s a big deal and we’re going to do it as a group.”

The students, each equipped with a provided laptop, had their chance to apply to a college of their choice via a website for the College Foundation of West Virginia.

Application fees and essays are not the only challenges that West Virginia high-schoolers face; The financial conditions of the state stack the odds against them as well.

West Virginia has been ranked as the second poorest state in the Union from sources such as the Wall Street Journal. Also, according to aecf.org, which stands for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 22 percent of the population of West Virginia from ages 18 to 24 do not have a job or an education past high school.

This is why the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and GEAR-UP wanted to hold the College Application and Exploration Week.

Adam Green, senior director of the division of student success at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is confident that programs like this can improve the state’s college attendance rates. 

“Both through the GEAR-UP program and through the College Foundation of West Virginia, we’re creating those local cultures where people can talk about higher education early on and begin to think about it as an option and as as a way to a better means of life," he said.

"One research study out from Georgetown University shows that by the year 2020, in the state of West Virginia, we’re going to need 50 percent of our population to have a two to four year degree. Unfortunately, right now we’re less than 30 percent. So we gotta move those numbers and it’s programs like this that I think are going to move it.”

GEAR-UP empowers high school students to help their peers as well. These students are called “Higher Education Readiness Officers”, or HEROs. Three of them at Tuesday’s Prep Rally seem to take their responsibilities as HEROs seriously.

“It entails being a role-model in general for other students and making sure they’re prepared for college as much as we are as HEROS ourselves," one hero said.