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For immediate release: August 18, 2003
Contact: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, (609) 258-2982, jlg@princeton.edu

First graduating class marks success of Princeton Prep

PRINCETON, N.J. -- It was late in the afternoon on a warm summer day, and two dozen high school students were assembled in a Princeton University classroom to listen to a presentation that dealt with financial figures. You might reasonably expect some heavy eyelids, but these students were firing questions at Robin Moscato, senior associate director of Princeton's financial aid office.

"Is it possible for students to negotiate a better deal?"

"Could you give some examples of schools that aren't need-blind?"

The students are members of the first class to graduate from the Princeton University Preparatory Program, an intensive academic experience designed to help them get ready for college. The program, which includes a six-week summer session on campus as well as tutoring during the school year, admits students from Ewing, Princeton and Trenton who have excelled academically and are members of a group traditionally underrepresented at highly selective colleges and universities. Sixty-one high school sophomores, juniors and seniors currently are enrolled in the program. This summer, as the oldest students head for their final year of high school, the program has added a class to help them prepare for the daunting task of applying to college.

"The college process can be mysterious," said the class instructor, Jim Moyer, who is a graduate student in Princeton's English department. "We want the students and their families to feel that they can do it; they shouldn't feel lost." One student told Moyer she was planning to attend either Princeton or another university in the area, unaware that there are dozens of other schools beyond central New Jersey that might be right for her. "That was her sense of what the choices were," he said.

Moyer is formulating a list of about seven colleges with each student. Over the course of the summer they will do research about those schools on the Internet, meet with admissions officers from several colleges and visit six campuses in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Toni Applegate was psyched that she got the opportunity to visit her first choice, Columbia University. "I was so happy because I had never visited the campus," said Applegate, who is interested in studying journalism. "I had only seen it on the Internet."

Moyer also plans to conduct mock interviews and discuss issues such as whether it's better to apply online or on paper. And he is spending several class periods working with the students on the most dreaded part of the college application: the essay.

The students feel like they're getting a leg up on the application process. "I can guarantee if I wasn't here, I wouldn't be thinking about it," said Jamie Sparano, who plans to study politics in college. "I'd be putting it off to the fall. We're all getting a head start."

"It would have taken me a month to pick a topic" for the college essay, said Applegate, who was glad that the class has given her the time to hone her selection.

Some students may feel college is out of their reach for financial reasons, Moyer said. Moscato's presentation about the ins and outs of financial aid went a long way toward dispelling that notion. She explained that many colleges have need-blind admissions policies, which means they do not consider a student's ability to pay when making admissions decisions.

She also walked the students through a form on Princeton's Web site called an estimator that allowed them to see how much financial aid they might receive from the University. The students were pleased with the results.

"It was kind of amazing to see how much they were going to pay for me to go here," said Anna Mejia. "I was looking into loans and grants — I thought, whatever I have to do I'll do — but that estimator made me feel better."

Moyer is optimistic that after participating in Princeton Prep, the students will be accepted at highly selective institutions next year. And the students are approaching the application process with the right attitude.

"I'm not worrying about where I'm applying," Sparano said. "I'm reaching for the best school and not worrying about being able to pay for it."


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