02/07/18 — Papering the wall with acceptance and accomplishment

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Papering the wall with acceptance and accomplishment

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 7, 2018 5:50 AM

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Ryan Smith, left, and classmate Jennifer Potts are backed by the "acceptance wall" outside the administrative offices at Wayne Country Day School, where seniors' college letters of acceptance are posted. Potts applied to four schools, in the typical range, while Smith ambitiously applied to 36 schools across the nation. So far, he has received responses from 30 of them, a number of them lined up vertically at left.

It used to be that the headmaster's door at Wayne Country Day School served as a billboard of sorts for students' college acceptance letters.

Over time, that space became insufficient to display the growing numbers at the college prep school.

These days, the "acceptance wall" is outside the administrative offices at the school.

Once the students reach high school, the conversations about college intensify. Junior year, they are groomed in the art of resumes, applications and interviews. They are also afforded the opportunity to go on college trips to check out some of the campuses around the nation.

"One of the things we have always wanted the kids to do is realize, the world is your oyster -- look far afield," says headmaster Todd Anderson. "If you want to go to ECU, N.C. State, that's great, because the vast majority are going to end up there.

"But don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone."

Students are encouraged to apply to their "No. 1," where they would most like to attend, but also to consider other states and what the educators call "reach schools," perhaps a bit harder to get into, but to stretch and grow a bit in the process.

One of the students who has embodied that this year is Ryan Smith.

His acceptance letters stretch almost floor to ceiling, and are still coming in.

They read like an alphabetic state roll call -- Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, East Carolina University, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Liberty University, Mississippi, Oregon and Tennessee.

"I know as a grand total, I applied to 36 schools," the 17-year-old said. "I don't really know what sparked me to do that. I kinda got started, and I was like, I'm just gonna keep going.

"I think it was a way to kind of get my mind off, like, not getting into your No. 1. But really all I did was I just kind of sat down and started applying to places that I'd heard of, that I knew were good schools."

It was fun, he admits, but also a lot of work.

So much effort -- meeting deadlines, filling out paperwork, writing essays -- that he developed his own color-coded spreadsheet to keep up with it all.

"He's got me by nine times," laughed classmate Jennifer Potts. "I just applied to four different colleges, and they're all within an hour and a half from my house."

Smith did not set out to apply to 36 schools, he points out.

Like the bulk of the school's 31-member Class of 2018, he started out with a more modest list -- four in-state and two out of state.

"And then I started getting intrigued and interested and kind of diversifying," he said.

So far, he has heard back from 30.

Some of those have been deferrals, bringing the number of acceptances down a few.

Deferrals are not rejections, Potts explained, but certainly a delay.

"They just throw you back into the regular decision part and they let you know (later, with the rest of the applicants)," she said. "It's like you can still go there your freshman year if you get in the next round."

Potts had applied early and was deferred by Duke back in December. That actually was not a bad thing, she says now.

"It's kind of like the best of both worlds, because if I had gotten in that's where I would have to go; I'd have to call every scholarship and every place (I applied) and say, 'Sorry, take me out of the running,'" she said. "I'm actually glad I got deferred now because I'm a finalist for two scholarships at N.C. State, and I would have not had the opportunity to even interview.

"I would have had to pull my name out of all the other ones, too. And I wouldn't know. I would only know I got into Duke and that's the only place I could go. It's nice to have options now."

She said she had also applied to UNC as well as N.C. State and ECU.

"I'd originally thought I wanted to do engineering, more specifically biomedical engineering, because both of my older brothers went to N.C. State and were in the engineering program," she said. "I've always liked math and science, and I just thought that was a good fit for me.

"I've gone to engineering camp at N.C. State. That's just what I've wanted to do since I was a little girl, maybe go to medical school later, but if I did it and decided to take a different route, engineering would lead me to other (areas)."

Smith said he has shifted his No. 1 a few times but has "always been an N.C. State guy." He wouldn't mind going out of state, though.

"I've actually got some top choices for out of state," he said. "I was actually deferred from N.C. State so it's kind of like making me open my eyes a little bit. I might have to do that."

His hope would be to go to N.C. State and major in biology, possibly a pre-med track, or to the UNC medical school, to become a general surgeon or oncologist, he said.

"My mom had cancer -- she actually passed away from cancer -- so that kind of led my interest in oncology," he said. "But then I had had appendicitis and kind of was interested in surgery after that.

"For certain, something in the medical field, but those two are my choices."

The hardest part of the process, by far, both said, is the waiting.

But the best part of the whole process, the seniors say, has been knowing they have options, and that their teachers have prepared them for the next step.

"You don't have to worry about not getting in somewhere. You're going to go to college," Potts said. "They're (teachers) going to do everything in their ability to make sure you get in somewhere."

They praised the supportive atmosphere afforded them at WCDS -- teachers writing letters of recommendation, classmates sharing the news when they get accepted.

"Luis Lopez got into his first choice, with a full ride to Northwestern," Potts said of another classmate. "Jack Talton got into his first choice of Wake Forest and got his (scholarship) money, too, early decision. A lot of people have gotten into their No. 1. Like Ben Cohen, he's going to play soccer at Queens (College)."

Ultimately, it's all about preparing students for their future, wherever that may be, Anderson said.

"I always tell them, where are you going to be happy and successful?" said Fran Shaw, college counselor at the school. "Because you can be happy a lot of places but not necessarily successful and you can be successful but not happy because it doesn't meet your social needs or whatever."