Local high school seniors GEAR UP for App State admissions program

Gianna Holiday

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Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs will grant high school students in 11 Western North Carolina districts automatic admission to App State, provided they meet certain criteria. 

GEAR UP is a federally funded college access program meant to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

Since 2015, App State has partnered with 11 school districts to provide college preparation to 15,000 middle and high school students and parents.

“With an enrollment goal of 20,000, Appalachian is in an excellent position to admit more qualified students than ever before,” said Cindy Barr, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management.

GEAR UP funds provide college scholarships to low-income students according to the Department of Education.

“The college application process can be cumbersome, confusing, time consuming and oftentimes, costly for students, making it more challenging and less likely for students in under-resourced communities to go to college,” said Corrine Smith, senior associate director of GEAR UP.

GEAR UP is meant to improve access to and enrollment in postsecondary education.

“An important piece of what we do in Appalachian GEAR UP is not only to expose and educate students about the ways to successfully complete the process, but it’s also very important that we identify ways to make the process less confusing,” Smith said. “The GEAR UP Guarantee is just one of the things we are doing to help with that.”

Alexis Pope, director of admissions, said App State has conducted research within the 11 GEAR UP districts and found students competitive for admission to App State who do not apply.

“Appalachian believes that the GEAR UP Guarantee will increase the number of students entering Appalachian that are prepared to succeed, while also not significantly changing the academic profile of students from these counties,” Pope said.

This will not impact the chances for admission for students who reside in non-GEAR UP districts. 

Counties eligible to participate in this program include Alleghany, Ashe, Burke, Clay, Graham, Madison, Rutherford, Swain, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.

Barr said the project came after discussions with App State and Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott.

“We share a goal to ensure students and their school districts know we recognize their potential for success in college,” Barr said.

Barr said now was the right time to create this program.

“Our first Appalachian GEAR UP cohort is in the midst of their college search, so the time is ripe to launch a program that honors and builds upon the work and investments made in these students and their school districts.”

The Department of Education describes GEAR UP as a discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared for postsecondary education. 

 “We have been working with these students since they were in middle school and have helped their districts prepare them for postsecondary education and to create a culture of post secondary educational attainment in their schools and communities,” Barr said. “We want these students to have the confidence to apply to Appalachian and know they can succeed here.”

Eligible high school students must apply for admission to App State by Nov. 1 to be considered.

High school students must also have a minimum weighted GPA of 3.5 and meet specific academic prerequisites required by the UNC System.

“Fundamentally, access to education for rural students was the driving vision of BB, DD and Lillie Shull Dougherty and is the reason Appalachian State University exists today,” Barr saidmn.