The routes that draw people to New Hampshire’s North Country are varied and plentiful – hiking trails, ski trails, snowmobile trails, scenic highways, and weather-beaten roads that meander through quaint and quirky towns.
Less abundant are the sorts of professional pathways that keep people in the region.
“It’s a great area to raise a family. It’s a great place to grow up,” said Granite Edvance Education and Career Counselor Celina Heyliger. “It’s a tough place to continue (after high school).”
Moving to the North Country 16 years ago when her children were small and quickly falling in love with the region, Celina worked with young people in a variety of settings before joining Granite Edvance. She’s passionate about helping North Country students find promising postsecondary pathways.
One way she fulfills that mission is by facilitating ApplyNH, a statewide college application campaign held every fall at the region’s high schools. This November, 145 high school seniors at 11 North Country high schools participated in the program.
“It’s really fun when the kids get excited and hit that first submit button,” said Celina, who led the program in five different schools across the region this year and helped spread the word about the program. (She already has a 12th North Country school on the list for next year). “It’s exciting when they understand this is an achievable goal.”
If they continue the journey, many of those students will be first-generation college students. In 2019, about 18% of Coos County residents had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, roughly half the national average, according to a study conducted by the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy.
That’s just one of the reasons North Country young people may need extra support in planning for life after high school. The rural character of the region means jobs and other opportunities are fewer and farther between than in other areas. Young people value higher education and successful careers, the Carsey study found, but they don’t necessarily see themselves being
successful. While 83% of high school seniors surveyed said that having a successful career is “very important,” only 59% reported feeling “very likely” to have a successful career.
ApplyNH is working to change those perceptions. Part of a national initiative to support high school seniors in the college admissions process, the program is all about lowering barriers and building confidence. Granite Edvance counselors, along with volunteer college access professionals, work directly with students to help them apply to college. And NH colleges that have application fees waive them for students who apply during the event.
“Having dedicated days makes the process more accessible for students,” Celina said. “And having the volunteer admissions reps there is so important. It really lowers the intimidation factor.”
Many schools make the event a celebratory occasion as well. “Some go all out and have banners and streamers and cowbells and take pictures of every kid,” Celina said.
The result: Young people who may not have seen college in their future take the first step toward making it real. At one tiny North Country school this year, 26 out of 29 high school seniors applied to college.
Granite Edvance counselors are thrilled to be part of that step. This year, more than 1,800 students at 62 schools around the state applied to college through ApplyNH. That’s nearly a 10- fold increase since Granite Edvance (then known as the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation) began facilitating the program in 2014.
And while counselors are limited by the number of hours and volunteers available, they hope to continue expanding the program in years to come. “ApplyNH is about coming along students to open doors and guide them toward their future goals,” said Shelby Miuzzo, assistant vice president of college planning and outreach at Granite Edvance. “We always hope to have more schools join us in this initiative and come together to celebrate NH students’ potential.”