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UNC can be tough fit for out-of-state students

UNC admissions and Out-of-State Student Association aim to improve retention.

“When I was in high school, I thought I wanted a bigger state school,” she said, recalling her experience applying to colleges. “I fell in love with UNC when I toured it my junior year of high school — my mom actually went to Duke, but I hated it when we visited.”

Scott is now a senior at Brown University. She transferred after spending her first year and a half of college at UNC. Her experience is an example of just one factor that influences out-of-state students who decide not to return to UNC.

“I felt like a small fish in a huge pond. I came from a small boarding school in New England, where I had a lot of attention from my teachers,” Scott said. “The size of the school ended up being why I transferred.”

According to data from UNC’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the retention rate for out-of-state students is about two percentage points less than the rate for students from North Carolina. Of the in-state freshmen who entered UNC in fall 2012, 96.3 percent of students returned for their second fall, and 93.4 percent returned for a third fall.

Of the out-of-state students in the same class, 95.1 percent returned for their second fall, while 91.4 percent returned for their third.

Tara O’Connor, co-president of the Out-Of-State Student Association (OSSA), said though the difference in retention rate is small, many out-of-state students think about transferring at one point or another.

“I don’t think we necessarily feel left out, but there are times when it’s difficult being out-of-state — like on long weekends, usually they aren’t long enough for it to be worth us going home,” she said.

Cynthia Demetriou, director for Retention in the Office of Undergraduate Education, said the university often compares its graduation and retention rates to other large public universities.

“Compared to these schools, we have the most stringent in-state, out-of-state requirements,” she said. “Other schools are able to take in more students from out-of-state, and it changes the talent pool.”

UNC is required to limit the proportion of out-of-state students to 18 percent. The University of Virginia maintains a ratio of 69 percent in-state and 31 percent out-of-state.

Scott said she felt like the UNC culture, dominated by North Carolina students, made it difficult to integrate.

“With 80 percent of students being in-state, a lot of kids who come from similar high schools already have networks in place,” she said.

Demetriou said her office is open to working with organizations like OSSA to bridge the gap in retention rates between in-state and out-of-state students.

“Students coming from out of state enrich the community experience of students who are in-state because it contributes to the diversity on campus,” she said. “That includes geographical diversity and diversity of experiences and perspectives.”

This year, the OSSA launched a mentorship program between freshmen out-of-state students and their older peers.

“It’s the first year we set it up, so there are still some kinks, but we’d like to build a stronger program in the future,” O’Connor said.

Tennessee native, Kalpana Vallabhaneni, graduated from UNC in 2013 and said she really found her niche when she joined a dance team.

“I just feel like you join a group or club at UNC, and you automatically gain friends,” she said. “It creates a good support system.”

Finding that social connection can be a game-changer.

“I couldn’t access some of the organizations I was really interested in because so many people were doing it,” Scott said. “I was applying for positions in groups, and I kept getting rejected because other people took precedent over me.”

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In hindsight, Scott said she would have done things to make UNC feel close-knit, like living in a South Campus dorm or applying to Honors Carolina.

Though UNC wasn’t right for her, she said she has no regrets.

“I made some amazing friends, and I met great professors in the history department who really solidified my interest in the subject,” she said. “It was a valuable experience that helped change my perspective.”

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