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Being 'late' for school helps some students

Colleges extend application period

Professor William B. Vogele introduced himself to freshman Jennifer Jean-Baptiste on the first day of classes, Sept. 5, at Pine Manor College. Professor William B. Vogele introduced himself to freshman Jennifer Jean-Baptiste on the first day of classes, Sept. 5, at Pine Manor College. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF)

BROOKLINE - Jennifer Jean-Baptiste wanted to go to college, but life kept interfering last fall as her peers scrambled to write application essays and fill out a maze of forms. Her grandmother, her sole guardian, had suffered a stroke, leaving Jean-Baptiste to largely fend for herself.

So the teenager began searching for a college long after traditional application deadlines passed and acceptance letters landed in high school seniors' mailboxes.

In August, Pine Manor College stunned Jean-Baptiste - with an offer of admission, financial aid, and a dorm room.

In an area that is home to some of the nation's most brutally competitive colleges, Pine Manor - located in the Chestnut Hill section of Brookline - was among 85 colleges, roughly half of the region's 175 four-year schools, willing to keep their doors open to new applicants after May 1 this year, according to a survey by the New England Board of Higher Education.

Many schools, typically private and small, use late recruitment to boost enrollment in a bid for survival, and in some cases accept students days before classes start.

"The kids who apply late are not all slackers. Sometimes, colleges will listen to you and understand," said Jean-Baptiste, 19, a Brighton High School graduate who began classes last week at Pine Manor.

This school year, 62 of Pine Manor's 184 new students applied and enrolled after May 1, and 30 made the choice after Aug. 15.

"It's survival in the sense of 'Does the world need us?' Oh, yes, if we're talking about who's not getting to college, and who can," said Pine Manor president Gloria Nemerowicz. "There are millions and millions of kids who've done fine in high school. If we all close doors in May, the country suffers."

The 500-student women's college has space for 600 students on its bucolic campus, set on 60 rolling, tree-laden acres of a former 19th-century family estate. This summer, Pine Manor advertised for students and sought them through connections with community agencies.

Regis College in Weston, a formerly all-women's school that went coed this school year, started classes Tuesday and admitted students until last Friday. Many of the late applicants had been accepted at out-of-state schools, attended the schools' orientations, then balked and chose Regis because it was nearer home, said Joseph Bellavance, vice president of enrollment and marketing.

Mount Ida College in Newton accepts students after May 1, but is reluctant to admit students late in the summer, said Phil Conroy, vice president for enrollment management and marketing. This year, the 1,400-student school closed its freshman class at the end of June. It prefers students who have gone through an 18-month process of selecting Mount Ida, Conroy said.

"They're more at risk," he said of late applicants, adding that such students sometimes quit before the first semester ends because they were ill-prepared or the college was the wrong fit.

Officials at Pine Manor and other colleges say they work to catch up students on what they missed by applying late. Some hold later or makeup orientations, but school officials say they cannot make up everything: early birds usually get better choices of housing and classes.

At Pine Manor, Jean-Baptiste and Elizabeth Agamah, who also applied late to college, dispute the notion that they are more at risk of dropping out than their peers.

"We all finished high school at the same time. I don't think they have an advantage," she said.

Agamah, 18, graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, commuting from Jamaica Plain as part of the METCO program. At 15, she had a child, and during her senior year juggled helping to care for her daughter with working.

She waited until January to apply because she didn't like the competitive atmosphere at school during the fall admissions rush. Agamah applied to three schools and chose one near Syracuse, N.Y., but decided to stay near Boston so she could regularly visit her 3-year-old daughter, who lives with Agamah's parents.

She and Jean-Baptiste will live in one of the school's dorms, which house 30 students each.

"I'm proud that I'm finally in college, but not looking forward to all the work," said Agamah, who, like Jean-Baptiste, described herself as a B and C student in high school.

Jean-Baptiste said concerns about how she would pay for college also led to her hesitation to apply last fall.

"There was a time when everyone was applying and saying, 'I got accepted.' I was just in the background," she said.

Shuffled among family friends' homes in New York City since birth, Jean-Baptiste moved in with her grandmother in Dorchester when she was 11. A year later, Jean-Baptiste's grandmother suffered the first of a series of strokes. Toward the end of last school year, a relative took the grandmother back to her native Haiti.

"It's not like she's a typical procrastinator," said Jessica Madden-Fuoco, a former Brighton High teacher who taught Jean-Baptiste in a leadership class and offered advice this summer. "One, she had a lot of personal challenges last year, and two, she wasn't receiving enough support at the school to help her get it done in time."

In late May and early June, Jean-Baptiste applied to three schools and was accepted by all of them, including Pine Manor. But she chose Salem State.

After her grandmother died in June, Jean-Baptiste went to Haiti for the funeral. When she contacted Salem State upon her return, she was informed there was no longer space.

She contacted Pine Manor, which found her financial aid - federal and school-provided - for all but $8,000 of the $28,320 bill for room, board, and tuition. Now, she is searching for a cosigner for a loan.

Schools like Pine Manor are acting smartly by openly admitting they have space, particularly since the high school-age population is expected to decline in a few years, said David Hawkins, director of public policy for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Admission Counseling.

"They may understand there's some marketing appeal to being the knight in shining armor for the student who didn't get an acceptance letter or who didn't apply in the regular admissions process," he said. "Different students will succeed at different times in their lives."

Linda Wertheimer can be reached at wertheimer@globe.com.

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