PMC Featured in Bay State Banner

This article originally appeared in the Bay State Banner on August 23, 2007.

Door to a four-year degree is open at Pine Manor

Liz Hoffman

More than 60,000 freshmen will arrive next week on college campuses across Boston. For many of them, the journey began years ago with SAT prep courses, college guidance counseling, campus tours and early applications.

But across America’s biggest college town, several admissions offices are still open to students whose path to a degree may have started a little late. Many area schools are still accepting students for the fall semester.

These institutions range from one-year certificate programs to four-year, residential schools and are making a college education more accessible than ever — and they’re doing it without early deadlines, waiting lists, and often, without a lot of press.

“Eighty percent of the information that circulates to the public is about 20 percent of colleges in America,” said Robin Engel, director of admissions at Pine Manor College. “It leaves this impression that if you haven’t figured out what you want to do by March or April, then you don’t have any options. The reality is that there are all kinds of options.”

Pine Manor, a four-year, private all-women’s college nestled in a 60-acre campus in Chestnut Hill, is one of them. Seventy-one students, or nearly 40 percent of the college’s incoming freshman class, have enrolled since May 1, a deadline for enrollment at many schools.

According to Engel, summer applicants do just as well throughout their college careers as those that applied the previous year.

“Their storyline is just a little different,” he said. “They weren’t ready until now. And we want them to know that we’re still ready for them.”

When Phibe Pham of South Boston graduated from Muriel S. Snowden International School in June, she was undecided about her plans for the fall.

In high school, she didn’t have any college guidance until her senior year. Even then, overstretched counselors could spare little one-on-one time. Pham, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants and a first-generation college applicant, found little logistical support at home. Because of credit problems, her parents were unable to apply for loans, and Pham was left to wade through loan applications by herself.

“I thought I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have anyone to guide me through the steps of getting there,” she said. “I had to find it on my own, and I didn’t know where to start.”

A friend told Pham about Pine Manor. She applied online, compiled the paperwork with the help of a Pine Manor admissions counselor, and by late June, had been accepted.

“We know the students are out there,” said Stacey Corin, assistant director of admissions and the Urban Access coordinator. “We just need to find them and find a way to get them reconnected to school and back on that path. We want to make ourselves as open and accessible as possible.”

That accessibility starts with the admissions process. Applicants can apply online or in hard copy, and depending on when their paperwork arrives at the school, they can be accepted in seven to 10 days. The application fee, which can run up to $70 at many schools, is $25 and is waived for online applications. Admissions counselors work closely with Boston’s public schools, and work one-on-one with late or tentative applicants.

“There are financial barriers to college to be sure, but those get worked out more easily than you’d think,” Engel said, noting that Pine Manor raises more than $3 million each year for scholarships. “A lot of times, it’s the logistical and administrative barriers, or students just not knowing their options or not believing that a college education can be a reality for them.”

Pine Manor is not alone in trying to accommodate late applicants.

A survey done by the New England Board of Higher Education of 212 colleges in the region found that as of May 1, 68 percent still had availability for the fall.

More than a third were community colleges or private two-year programs, which traditionally offer “rolling” application as part of their mission to cater to non-traditional students or adults.

But nearly 70 percent of the schools reporting vacancies were four-year colleges or universities aimed at the attracting traditional students — directly out of high school and on their way to a bachelor’s degree. The majority of them were small and private, diverse in their programming, enrollment size and location, and 97 percent of them still had financial aid available.

“There’s a stigma around the label of ‘four-year’ and ‘private’ that people take to mean exclusive and expensive and even pretentious,” Engel said. “It’s not the right fit for every student, but a four-year, private, residential college experience can be a wonderful thing, and there are a lot of places it can happen.”

The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, located on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge with an enrollment of 565, and Curry College, a liberal arts college of 1,600 students in Milford, Mass., are both still accepting applications for a Sept. 5 start date. Nichols College, a liberal arts and business school in Dudley, Mass., was accepting commuter students though last week for their semester, which begins on Tuesday.

“[Late enrollment] gives people who are still on the fence about college a second chance,” said Marie Odney, a 2005 graduate of the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science in Roxbury and a junior biology major at Pine Manor. “They can come here and embrace this community as their own. It’s about Pine Manor catering to students who just didn’t know this was here.”

“I go back to my high school all the time and I tell as many people as possible about Pine Manor,” she continued. “For me, it’s about getting the word out and letting people who come from where I come from know that they have options.”