2013-04-11 / Front Page

College tour opens doors to higher learning

‘Get on the Bus’ tour provides students with visits to black colleges, universities
Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH — A group of high school upperclassmen are hoping that a recent college tour will point them toward a collegiate future.

The 21st annual “Get on the Bus” college tour, co-sponsored by the Long Branch Housing Authority and the Long Branch Department of Recreation & Human Services, went off without a hitch from March 25-29.

“It was excellent — another good tour with a good group of kids,” Carl Jennings, director of recreation and human services, said on April 2.

“This is our 21st year of the annual tour, and we are just blessed to be able to continue this tour.”

This year’s tour included stops at historically black colleges and universities like Norfolk State University (Va.) ; Hampton University (Va.) ; Morgan State University and Coppin State University, both in Baltimore, Md.; Bowie State University (Md.); Howard University, Washington, D.C.; Delaware State University in Dover; and Cheyney University, West Chester, Pa.

“We try to do different schools every year, and these are schools we didn’t do in the past. So we tried to hit these schools this year,” Jennings said.

Of the 21 students on the tour, three are seniors and the others are juniors, according to Jennings. Most of the students are from Long Branch High School.

Jennings said each college visit is structured in the same way. Students meet with an administrator who provides information on admissions criteria, followed by a tour of the school with a student ambassador.

He said the seniors come prepared to apply to the schools.

“Normally, we tell the seniors to bring their transcripts and report cards, and to contact the college administrator,” Jennings said. “This way, they can meet with the administrator of the college of their choice and can get accepted on the spot.”

In the past, some students were accepted during the campus visit, but that process is changing, Jennings said.

“Last year, we had two seniors who were accepted by Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, [N.C.], that day,” Jennings said. “This year, the administrators said they liked the students’ grades and [that] they’d get back to them.”

The cost of the tour for each student is $425 — down from last year’s $450 price tag where the tour went as far south as Atlanta.

Jennings said the tour would likely cost around $1,100 per student if not for outside donations.

The fee includes round-trip bus fare, three daily meals, hotel costs, a hooded windbreaker, a backpack, a binder and a T-shirt.

“In that binder is information on every college that we go to, and in the very back of the binder is scholarship information,” Jennings said.

“Also in the binder for each school are questions that the students can ask pertaining to college life, security, the cost of the school, the population of the school and various questions like that, so they can get a feel for the school.”

While the tour costs $425 per student, Jennings said the students do not need to spend any money once they get on the bus.

“We tell the parents [that] the only money a student needs on that tour is to maybe stop at a bookstore and buy a souvenir, a T-shirt or a hat,” he said.

Jennings said the down economy, along with superstorm Sandy, made fundraising for the trip difficult.

“This was probably the hardest year for me to coordinate the tour as far as reaching out to schools because I didn’t have phone access or people couldn’t get back to me via email,” Jennings said. “Most of the schools weren’t impacted as much by Sandy as my department was.”

“The economy affects it every year — and this year probably more than others. It was really hard,” he said. “I really want to thank the organizations that were able to step up to the plate once again.”

Jennings said contributions come from both private individuals and corporations, and there is now a dedicated Facebook page for the tour.

The students also visited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Included in the program is an annual formal dinner.

“We have our annual ‘step out night,’ where the kids get dressed up, and we take them out to dinner,” Jennings said. “This year, we did a dinner cruise out of D.C.”

For more information on the “Get on the Bus” tour, contact the Long Branch Recreation Department at 732-571-6545.

Contact Kenny Walter at kwalter@gmnews.com

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