Kira Cassels applied to 11 colleges and got in to every one. The kitchen of her Laurel home came to resemble a high school guidance office, the breakfast table buried beneath brochures and financial aid forms from destinations such as the University of Virginia and Franklin & Marshall College.

Over two arduous weeks last spring, Cassels sat with her parents and weighed the costs and benefits of each program until the list was narrowed to one: an honors track at the local community college.

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