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Extra curricular activities, academic focus bolster college applications

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Petula Wright will be sending her firstborn child, Amber, to college next year, but she is trying to find out how her daughter can strengthen her college applications.

Amber is an Advanced Placement (AP) student at Jonesboro High, but she missed about three months of her junior year because of illness. As a result, she was not able to be as actively involved in school activities as her mother would like. College admissions officials look at how active an applicant is in his or her school, and they look to see how long the applicant has been involved in extracurricular activities.

Amber, who put a heavy focus on academics during her freshman and sophomore years, is now involved in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) as a senior. Her mother is just wondering what else has to be done.

"My biggest concern is that while she is an AP student, she was sick last year, and I want to make sure she is competitive with other college applicants," said Petula Wright.

Wright was one of more than 50 parents who attended a college planning information session offered by Clayton County Public Schools' Guidance and Counseling Department.

Ken Sanders, coordinator of the Guidance and Counseling Department, and guidance counselors from Forest Park, Mount Zion and Mundy's Mill high schools, talked to the parents about the importance of focusing on academics, and extracurricular activities, during the meeting.

Mark Genwright, a guidance counselor at Forest Park, addressed the parents who also have younger children who will graduate in subsequent school years, and told them their children needed to get involved in extracurricular activities early on. While college admissions officials do look heavily at academics, they also want to see a student who is active in his or her community.

"You have to get involved for more than one year," Genwright said. "They look at the amount of time you were involved, and they can tell if you just joined an organization during your senior year to make your application look good."

Staying involved academically is another issue seniors must face. Darnisha Molden, a guidance counselor at Mundy's Mill, said a common problem is students who suffer from senioritis, where the work ethic loosens as the senior year progresses. She said it is particularly bad after a senior gets a college acceptance letter.

"Don't get senioritis, because far too often, we've seen seniors get accepted to college and then they slip during the next semester," Molden said. "That acceptance is contingent upon the student graduating from high school, so the student still has to pass all of his or her classes during the spring semester."

One issue on the minds of parents of high school seniors right now is the school system's recent loss of accreditation. Earlier this year, Georgia's Board of Regents announced that graduates of Clayton County schools will still be eligible for admission to public colleges in this state. College officials in Florida announced on Tuesday they would look at the students on a "case-by-case basis."

Tara Robinson, who has a senior, two juniors and a freshman at Lovejoy High School, attended the meeting on Tuesday to get some clarity about the lost accreditation's impact on college admissions.

She was concerned that the situation would hurt her oldest son, Tobias Harris' chance of getting into the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Tobias will be the first member of his family in several generations to attend college, his mother said.

"I think he can get into college, but I wasn't sure how the accreditation would affect the situation," she said. "My concerns about the accreditation issues are, 'Where is it going to leave my senior and my underclassmen?' "