By Morgan Holt

Megan Keeley, president of the student council and swim team captain at Rockbridge County High School, is worried about how she’ll pay for college.

As students protest on college campuses about rising tuition and debt-ridden graduates struggle to find jobs, local high school seniors say they are apprehensive about what’s in store for them.

Students like Megan Keeley are placing as much weight on scholarship opportunities as the cache of the schools they are considering.

“It’s pretty frightening,” she said. “Pressing the submit button is the scariest moment. You wonder, ‘Do you have everything right? Is there enough information for them to get to know you?’ But it’s also really exciting.”

Rockbridge County High School guidance counselor Lisa van Ravenswaay said out of the current senior class of 199 students, she expects about 80 percent to ask her to send transcripts to colleges. The remaining students will most likely get jobs, go to the military, or struggle to figure out what they want to do.

From left to right, Megan Keeley, Nick Keeley, Schafer Wymond and Peter Lauck. (Photo by Morgan Holt)

“The cost can be prohibitive these days,”  she said. “It’s heavy on the kids’ minds. But I’m always encouraging them to go ahead and apply, see if you can get financial aid. No harm in trying.”

Four seniors are tapping their high school resources, exploring scholarship opportunities, and investigating the branches of the military before deciding what they want to do with their lives.

Peter Lauck

Seventeen-year-old Peter Lauck moved to Rockbridge County from Oregon when he was 5. He said he likes the Rockbridge area, but he is ready for college so he can experience new people and places.

Lauck said he wants to study electrical engineering at college, but he needs to find a school that will offer financial aid.

“I’m not going to be able to pay $50,000 a year,” he said.

Lauck said his first choice is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) because it offers 100 percent need-based financial aid. He said he is also plans to apply to Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson and the University of Michigan. MIT has the earliest deadline, Jan. 1. He said he expects to hear back from all of the schools by mid-March.

So far, Lauck said his course load hasn’t been stressful thanks to a free period and only three Advanced Placement classes. Still, he said he feels the application process is hyper-competitive.

“It’s a lot harder to get in now than it used to be,” he said. “But overall, the [high] school handles it pretty well.”

Schafer Wymond

Schafer Wymond is the only student out of the four who knows where he will be attending college next year. He applied early decision to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and found out Nov. 14 that he was accepted.

“It’s been what I’ve wanted to do for the past two years,” he said.

Wymond said he was drawn to VMI because of its language program and the sense of discipline it instills in its students.

To lessen the cost of college, he is applying for Marine Corps scholarships that could pay for his four years of college. He said he wants to join the Marines.

Because he will receive in-state tuition, the cost will be cheaper.

Nick Keeley

Nick Keeley described his past semester as a senior as “overwhelming” as he juggled extracurricular activities while applying to colleges.

Keeley is involved with sports, student council, several clubs, and the journalism program. He is one of the editors of the student-run paper, The Prowler, which comes out five times a year.

“I’ve learned how to hold myself and survive in the adult world,” he said.

Keeley, who has been living in Rockbridge County for about five years, said that although he loves the Lexington area, he is ready for a change.

“It’s the best place on earth,” he said. “But the last thing I want to do is stay here because I feel like I would be limiting myself. I want to see the world.”

He said he wants to go to college and then join the military. He is looking into a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at eight schools. His first choice is West Point, the United States Military Academy.

Megan Keeley

Nick Keeley’s twin, Megan, has also had a “pretty stressful” semester.

She is student council president, swim team captain, and belongs to multiple clubs. She said she hopes her extracurricular activities will make her stand out with admissions officers.

Keeley said she dreams of joining a college ROTC, Reserve Officers Training Corps, program for the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.

She said she learned two weeks ago that she will receive a ROTC Nurse Corps scholarship to Belmont University.  But her first choice is the University of Virginia (UVA), and she said she is waiting to see if the scholarship can be transferred there.

The schools must accept her. If not, she will lose the scholarship.

Keeley applied early to UVA and expects to hear by Jan. 31.  She also is applying to Vanderbilt, Georgetown, James Madison University, University of Florida and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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