Zafirah Richards is a Jaguar in the making.
The Columbia County high school senior’s acceptance to Augusta University was recently sealed with a surprise announcement. She is one of 47 students at Lakeside High School who received the news from AU admissions staff, along with a goodie bag full of Jag swag, photos with Augustus the Jaguar and features in local media reports. John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School hosted the same acceptance celebration for 20 of its seniors.
Richards said, though other universities were appealing, AU is her heart’s desire.
“I’m trying not to cry. I want to pursue the medical field and I was looking at AU,” said the 18-year-old, who recently enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard. “This is what I’ve waited on for a long time since I was a child. I knew Augusta University is where it’s at. The programs. The opportunities. Everything’s there.”
The Nov. 16 announcement came ahead of the traditional admittance decisions in mid-December. Planning the surprise visit had been in the works for several weeks, university officials said, as a way to enhance the early action acceptance experience. Executing it did not disappoint, according to Nathan Rice, undergraduate admissions director.
“Early action is an opportunity for students to apply early in the admissions cycle and be among the first group of students in the class to find out their admissions decision,” said Rice. “There is so much excitement and momentum around Augusta University, and we received our largest pool of early applicants in the history of the institution. So, we wanted to honor and celebrate some of our local students and ensure they know that AU is here for them and excited to see what they will accomplish as Jaguars.”
The 67 potential future Jags between the two Richmond County and Columbia County public schools are part of the more than 2,000 students overall who were accepted to AU through early action for fall 2023. In-state students accounted for 1,700.
“You’re going up against thousands of really smart people. ‘Could it be me,’ I thought? To find out it was me, I’m really happy for myself,” said Richards.
With college attendance rates dropping nationally since the pandemic, such an uplifting event was noteworthy and deserved fanfare, said Rice. Even Augustus put paw to paper and shared his enthusiasm. Bryan Waller, intramural sports program coordinator and Augustus’s handler, said the mascot’s involvement in the lives of students, current and potential, should be fun but also purposeful.
“It’s exciting to be one of the first memories that these future Jags have. Augustus will be part of their college journey from the beginning with acceptance letters and orientation, to during, including campus events, and at the end when they graduate. It’s our goal for Augustus to be woven into each student’s AU story,” Waller said.
Rice believes going to the schools and applauding the next generation of Jaguars plays an important role for AU as the conduits of change for this region.
“As the CRSA’s research institution, I think it is incredibly important for Augusta University to be involved in the community and be a strong voice to encourage students, families, and community members and share the value of pursuing higher education that can lead to amazing opportunities available right here in Augusta. Augusta University ranks among the top 5% of U.S. universities in economic mobility index, and it is imperative that students throughout this region, state, and country know how committed we are to our students.”
The economic mobility index examines the percentage of -low- and moderate-income students a university serves and the time it takes those students to earn enough to pay off the cost of their degree, based on extra income earned by completing a degree. attending that university. Rice said students who apply through early action are typically more engaged in the college search process, know what they want, and are often prepared to make their decisions.
Rice ended by saying education is vital to career and personal development throughout life, and prospective students should know AU supports them.
“It was wonderful to be there to be a part of that journey.”