MYRTLE BEACH — Caroline Moore will graduate from high school next week, and like so many of her fellow seniors in Horry and Georgetown counties, she is looking forward to her next adventure – college.
Moore, a student at Horry County Schools’ Scholars Academy and a National Merit Scholar, will attend the University of Georgia in the fall on a Foundation Fellowship, the university’s top academic scholarship. It not only will cover her four-year tuition, but the honor comes with various travel opportunities, including a month of study at Oxford University her freshman year.
While Moore’s academic achievement has paved her path, many graduates – and their parents – struggle over the cost of post-secondary education. School officials say early career planning helps avoid many pitfalls and that a range of funding options are available to those who do their homework.
“Kids need to be really savvy and knowledgeable,” said Cindy Ambrose, Horry County Schools’ chief academic officer. “At least by their 10th-grade year, they need to be thinking about it, talking to their guidance counselor and doing research.”
The cost of attending an in-state, public institution, with room and board, can hit around $20,000 a year, Ambrose said, and that price tag only goes up for private and prestige universities. She said publications and websites, such as cappex.com and fastweb.com, are available to help families navigate the college search, and that they should investigate all types of scholarships, whether state-sponsored, from individual institutions or from community groups.
Ambrose said if a student is set on going to a particular college, they should be sure to find out all there is to know about it. Entrance criteria differ from school to school, as well as their application processes and cutoff dates.
Helen Edwards, director of guidance at Socastee High School, said students have been adjusting their plans in order to stretch their finances.
“I think we have seen two trends in the last few years,” Edwards said. “One is that more of our students are choosing to start their college degrees at the technical college where the first two years are much less expensive, then they transfer to a four-year program.
“Then sometimes, rather than going to a more expensive school out of state, they choose to stay in state,” Edwards said, “especially if they can use the Palmetto Fellows [scholarship]; that’s a lot of money to give up.”
The Palmetto Fellows Scholarship is one of the state-sponsored scholarships funded by the S.C. Education Lottery. It recognizes academic talent and was established to encourage qualifying students to attend college in South Carolina. Fellows may receive up to $6,700 for their freshman year and up to $7,500 for the remaining three years. There also is a scholarship enhancement available to students who major in math and science.
Edwards said Palmetto Fellows who elect to attend college in state often move on to out-of-state colleges for graduate work. She said more students – about 30 percent at Socastee – also qualify for state-sponsored LIFE (Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence) scholarships, which can be used for two-year or four-year colleges.
“With the lottery and these scholarships, they have made a tremendous difference in what students could afford,” Edwards said.
Horry County students are armed early with a variety of career information to help ensure their time in high school is aligned with their college and career goals.
“In sixth grade, we begin career exploration, introducing a lot of speakers and just making them aware of how much education and training will be needed for different careers,” said Eileen Patonay, career development facilitator at Forestbrook Middle School.
The preparation continues throughout the middle-school years, Patonay said. Students are shown the requirements for colleges they are interested in, as well as the test scores they will need for entrance. She said they also emphasize the importance of class rank, which will qualify them for money later on.
Student grade point averages are rounded to the 1000th point. Even a slight shift in scores can mean a huge difference in which students qualify for top college prizes.
“You need to know that as you’re heading to high school,” Patonay said. “We don’t want them to find out senior year that they’re on the wrong path.”
In South Carolina, every eighth-grader has an individual graduation plan, Patonay said, which is reviewed with each student’s parents. She said the plan is addressed every year of high school and can be adjusted, ideally around the ninth and 10th grades.
“So many times parents say, ‘I wish I had that when I was in school,’ ” she said.
Even with all the advance planning, it doesn’t mean students will go through commencement with an iron-clad career in mind.
“In sixth-grade, I wanted to be a Rockette, but my fallback plan was a physicist,” said Moore, who attended Forestbrook Middle and is undecided on her college major. “Ms. Patonay was really patient and said I probably wasn’t going to be tall enough to be a Rockette.”
Still, Moore said that the career preparation she received in middle school did help put things in perspective. She said it crossed her mind that the economy was really rough on people in the area, and that she needed to get good grades and try to get high test scores in order to go to college.
Now on her way to Georgia, Moore has a little room to explore her varied interests, having earned 87 college credits from Coastal Carolina University during her time at Scholars Academy. She said if she had opted to attend CCU after graduation, her credits would put her just shy of being a senior, and some of her friends are taking that route to shorten their time in school.
“I’m only 17, and I think for me, I really want to spend the four years in college,” said Moore, who said the fellowship wouldn’t have influenced her to attend a school she didn’t love. “The most important thing is feeling comfortable and that you’re happy and excited about it.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.