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Seniors, here’s your competition

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kira Horvath/Vail DailyWilder Heuga and Kim Gillie are seniors at Battle Mountain High School and are each applying to six different colleges.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Battle Mountain Senior Kim Gillie wants to go to UCLA, but she realizes this may not happen.

She examined her grade point average and test scores and found some top schools a little out of her range, so she’s applied to some backup schools in case they don’t work out. Hopefully, she said, she’ll end up somewhere in California.

“I’m getting into film, and that’s definitely the place to go for that,” Gillie said. “But I’d hate to put all this work into applying and not get into a school. It’s definitely important to have a backup.”

Those backups are needed because of competition. Guidance counselors say it’s easy for many college bound seniors here in the valley to forget about the rest of the world.

All those high schools in Denver, New York and Los Angeles ” yeah, they have valedictorians too. They have salutatorians and honors graduates. The students there were all presidents of the student council and they all coordinated food drives and taught children in third world countries how to read.

But, being a student in a small mountain town with fewer advanced classes and academic clubs can have its advantages in the big scramble for top universities, said Jan Abbott, a guidance counselor at Battle Mountain High School.

“It can be a hook or a selling point, that they’re the local kid who was a star in a valley in Colorado, not one of the 10 kids out of a prep school near Princeton,” Abbott said. “But they still have to be the high caliber of student.”

Record numbers of seniors are applying for these top-tier colleges, and even second-tier schools are setting tougher standards. Then, even after acceptance, there’s competition for scholarships and financial aid packets. The process requires students to swallow their pride and look at schools they may have never heard of before, Abbott said.

“It’s tough as a counselor to strike that balance with kids,” Abbott said. “You don’t want to discourage them, but you want them to be realistic with how competitive things are.”

Eagle Valley High School guidance counselor Tammi Boeke said that any student living in a smaller town has to deal with the “bubble effect” Bigger schools can offer more advanced classes and a wider variety of extra curricular activities.

Students in bigger schools will often see 10 or more of their classmates qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, a highly competitive award that’s usually seen as one of the greatest marks of achievement for a high school student.

“What you see is right around you, and you just don’t have a view of the big world until you get out there,” Boeke said.

Wilder Heuga is emerging from a swamp of deadlines. But even after all the applications are sent, it will be worse waiting to hear from colleges, he said.

But the Battle Mountain senior isn’t so worried about competition ” it’s his own performance he’s concentrating on.

“It’s not the competition I’m worried about, it’s how I’ve done myself,” Heuga said. “A lot of kids here can be well off, but you have to do your best.”

Valley students have some unique perks in the application process that can set them aside from large pools of city candidates. For one, it’s easy for students here to participate in more extracurricular activities.

“They don’t have to compete with as many students for the basketball team or other things, and so we have kids involved in everything, making good grades and learning time management.” Boeke said. “Sometimes, in the bigger schools, students can’t be in as many things.”

Growing up in a smaller school also allows students to develop better relationships with teachers and staff.

“That really helps them in recommendation letters,” Boeke said. “It lets teachers say very specific things about them you sometimes don’t find in other schools.”

Then there’s “the hook” ” the mere idea of a mountain kid who can appear quite a bit different than the competition.

“It’s not every year that someone from our schools apply to a particular Ivy League school,” Abbott said. “It can work to their advantage in a highly competitive environment.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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