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On-the-spot admissions give FAMU an edge with college-bound students at Gibbs High

Published Sep. 24, 2015

Carley Going wanted to be a marine biologist.

That is until Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University accepted her and gave her a $65,000 scholarship that will cover four years' tuition, fees, on-campus housing and meals — all during eighth period at Gibbs High School.

FAMU doesn't offer a marine biology degree, so now the 17-year-old senior is considering pursuing a degree in social work there.

"I would turn down a school I wanted to go to if they didn't give me a scholarship," Going said. "That's a huge pusher for me because I don't want to have debt for the rest of my life."

Going is one of 14 students at Gibbs who were accepted on the spot during a FAMU visit to the high school this month. Together, the students were awarded $465,000 in merit-based scholarships. Twelve of them are enrolled in Gibbs' arts magnet, the Pinellas County Center of the Arts, and two are in the school's Business Economics Technology Academy.

"It was a wonderful day for Gibbs, for the students, and just the progress that we're making at Gibbs High School," Pinellas county school superintendent Michael Grego said.

FAMU included Gibbs on its second annual on-site admissions tour, which also visited Blake High in Tampa, where about 10 students were accepted, plus high schools in Birmingham, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando.

William Hudson, FAMU's vice president of student affairs, said on-site admissions help drive up freshmen enrollment. "We want to encourage people to apply early," he said.

While freshmen applications at FAMU remained steady over the past two years at just over 5,000, freshmen enrollment jumped from 1,145 to 1,237.

About 300 Gibbs juniors and seniors who had at least a 2.75 grade point average were invited to pre-register for FAMU's visit, which allowed the school's guidance department to collect students' unofficial transcripts and standardized test scores on file. About half of those students pre-registered, Gibbs assistant principal Nicole Johnson said.

"It opened their eyes to something that they weren't previously interested in by creating that awareness," she said.

Hudson said the acceptances are unofficial until students' GPAs and test scores are verified and they complete necessary forms such as declaring residency. Students have until February to accept their scholarships, which are entirely funded by FAMU donors.

Gibbs' acceptances and scholarships were announced at the school after a performance by FAMU's theater program on Sept. 4. Each student walked away with a FAMU messenger bag and a ticket to a FAMU football game.

"We want Gibbs High School to be a college-going school," said principal Reuben Hepburn, a FAMU graduate. He said he is pursuing similar on-site acceptance partnerships with the University of Central Florida, Flagler College and Oklahoma City University.

Of the 14 Gibbs students accepted to FAMU, 11 said they never would have considered applying to the school if it not for the on-site admissions. And 10 said they are now seriously considering FAMU as their top choice.

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"Instead of having to seek them out, they bring those opportunities to you," said Conn Thibodeau, a 17-year-old senior who received a $20,000 scholarship. "It's definitely a high consideration, in the top three or four (schools.)"

Liam O'Dowd, a 17-year-old senior, said he's considering attending FAMU for his associate's degree and then transferring to another state school for a bachelor's degree in accounting. He was offered a $12,000 scholarship.

"It's a better chance than it was before they came here," he said.

Colleen Wright can be reached at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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