High school students in all 100 counties have built dreams around future careers and intellectual ambitions. The North Carolina Countdown to College runs throughout October, motivating high school seniors to turn those dreams into action.

The North Carolina Countdown to College is a month-long push to encourage graduating seniors to envision higher education as a very real possibility. The campaign, orchestrated in collaboration with The College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC.org), reflects the UNC System’s commitment to making higher education more affordable and making it accessible to more North Carolinians, especially first generation, underrepresented, and disadvantaged students.

CFNC.org is a free, comprehensive resource designed to help all North Carolina students and families plan, apply, and pay for college. In October, CFNC.org dedicates itself to helping prospective students do the hard work of completing residency, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and application forms—all the essential work prospective students need to accomplish if they want to enroll in a university. 

CFNC’s efforts to support high school seniors in completing their applications peak during the weeks of October 19-30, 2019, when many of the state’s colleges and universities waive the usual application fees.

Volunteers in 100 Counties

During College Application Weeks, hundreds of volunteers across the state will be helping high school seniors, locally and virtually, wade through the tricky process of completing online applications. In addition, virtual events and how-to videos will offer even more socially-distanced support.

The goal is simple: encourage more students to take advantage of the opportunity to apply for free at select institutions.

This year, nine UNC System institutions have waived the standard application fee during College Application Week:

  • East Carolina University
  • Elizabeth City State University
  • Fayetteville State University
  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • North Carolina Central University
  • UNC Asheville
  • UNC Pembroke
  • Western Carolina University
  • Winston-Salem State University
Two hands stretching a calendar. Text says, "College Application Week ... Dates Extended"

By designing a state-wide holiday of sorts when many college applications will be free, CFNC.org encourages students to explore their college options. Waiving these fees removes a financial barrier that could easily dissuade disadvantaged students from applying, and it might incentivize others to explore possibilities they wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

CFNC.org was formed with the express mission of increasing the college-going rate in North Carolina. Its outreach strategies give special attention to low-income, rural, and first-generation college students.

Last year, hundreds of volunteers at 441 different sites helped 21,209 students submit 54,950 admission applications and 63,914 electronic high school transcripts. 18,443 applications were submitted from Tier 2 counties, and 17,934 applications were submitted from Tier 1 counties.

These numbers suggest that this month-long frenzy of activity plays an important role in encouraging more North Carolinians to embrace higher education as a viable option.

Notably, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke, and Western Carolina University are NC Promise institutions, where tuition is capped at $500 a semester for in-state students. Applying to these institutions during College Application Weeks is a no-risk endeavor; the UNC System’s affordability initiative makes enrolling upon acceptance a low-cost opportunity—one that will likely lead to a more prosperous future.

Thousands of Journeys Begin

CFNC.org is a collaborative effort by the NC Department of Public Instruction, the NC Community College System, the NC Independent Colleges and Universities, the University of North Carolina System, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, and the non-profit College Foundation, Inc. Since its inception, it has become one of the premier college access programs in the United States.  

The joint effort reflects North Carolina’s dedication to maintaining its constitutional mandate to provide affordable public higher education. To officially recognize its significance, Governor Cooper formally proclaimed October, 2020, as “Countdown to College” in North Carolina.

October is a month of seasonal change. For many high school seniors, it marks the beginning of their higher education journey. Some will adjust course during their college careers, but most of those who apply for college have started down the path toward life-changing learning opportunities and exciting careers.

The College Application Weeks push is an important milestone, where daydreams give way to a new level of dedication that will eventually transform professional aspirations into reality.

Student holding books; texts asks, "Are you ready to apply for collge?"