Special Report: Getting into College

Reported by Casey Roman - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - This year, college officials are expecting a record breaking year in admissions which is good for the schools, but can be tough on the students applying.

6:00 AM workouts.  Papers and presentations.  Working all the time, even working over time.

That is the lives of four straight-A seniors at Laney High School.  They are doing whatever it takes to get into college.

"They have to be at the top of their game to get what they want," said counselor Heather Todd.

What they want is a scholarship to an elite university.  And to get it, they'll have to prove their scholarship, leadership, service, and character - the ambiguous demands of college admissions.

It is a game they're playing, from four different fields.

One of eight children, Lacrisha has a top GPA, defeating social and racial stigma in class.

"You know you're getting prejudged like, 'Oh, is she smart enough to be in here?'" said Lacrisha. "I've worked hard and I've earned my way but at the same time when I get letters from people like Harvard and Yale I cant help but wonder is it because I'm African American you want me?"

Set on Howard University, she makes a daily two hour bus ride to the library to use the computer and internet to study and submit college applications.

MIT is Jared's first choice, where about 14,000 students compete for only 1,000 spaces.  He has been planning since he was 12 years old, and now the pressure is on.

"I feel like I'm asked to decide what I'm going to do for the rest of my life because time is running out," said Jared.

He spent his high school career strategically selecting courses.

"You're like, every single class, this is effecting my GPA - this is ultimately gonna change something and you're always worried about how am I doing compared to everybody else," said Jared.

In spring 2009, if Jared doesn't get into MIT or a scholarship, he will join a growing trend among students, taking a year off to work and clear his head .

Jules is the first in her family to attend a four year university.  For her, deciding on a school is as hard as figuring out her packed schedule.

Between mock trial, chorus, and TV production, she's a voice heard all over school.

"Sometimes I feel like I've spread myself so thin," said Jules.

And while Jules is busy in clubs at school, Anthony has been beating on UNC Chapel Hill's door.  The aspiring doctor is already thinking about graduate school.

"What you do now is going to determine your future later. Work now - play later," said Anthony.

Anthony's mom is sometimes concerned with his intensity.

"He forgets to eat - he's so busy and I worry he doesn't get enough sleep," said Latoya, Anthony's mom.

For now, applications are in the mail, worth all the work and worry.

As the number of applications soars each year, the number of seats available at many schools has remained the same.

Some of the most competitive colleges are accepting as little as 10% of applicants.