The great college aid game: How five high school seniors won scholarships

Few students pay the full sticker price for college. Here's how five New Rochelle High School seniors found ways to start college in the fall without bankrupting their parents.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Five New Rochelle High School seniors – from left Adaugo Ezike, Haleigh Doherty, Matisse Clayton, Esteban Acevedo, and Camille N'Diaye-Muller – won substantial college aid for the fall. This is part of the cover story project in the June 2, 2014 issue of The Christian Science Monitor/Weekly.

This is the final part of a series following five New Rochelle High School seniors on their quest for college financial aid. The project is a partnership between the Monitor and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University. The resolution of the year-long decisionmaking drama is explained here in four students' experiences and in a more in-depth look at the process as experienced by Matisse Clayton –  who landed full ride assistance (tuition, room and board) at Binghamton University – here. 

All but $3,000 per semester at Dartmouth

ESTEBAN ACEVEDO came to the United States nearly five years ago from his native Colombia and has worked hard to learn English and get top grades because he wants to become a doctor. He’ll graduate in the top 10 percent of his New Rochelle High School class in June. Financial aid is critical for Esteban, whose father is a porter and whose mother works as a home attendant (both received college educations in Colombia). He also has a younger sister who wants to go to college. 

Esteban has had some disappointments: He was a finalist for a scholarship program called QuestBridge, which matches low-income students with top colleges, but did not win a scholarship. In March, his first choice, the University of Chicago, rejected him. 

“It affected how I viewed things,” Esteban says. “I was more pessimistic. I kind of felt like I was seeing life in a darker light.”

But by the end of March, his hard work paid off: This September he’ll attend Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school, in New Hampshire with a generous financial aid package that will take care of all but $3,000 a semester.

“I feel so much more motivated now to do more things in my future, to just keep striving for bigger goals and keep working hard.”

$25,000 per year at Fairfield University

HALEIGH DOHERTY’s parents saved up to help send her three older siblings to college, but after each had graduated, they had to start saving again. 

“It’s not like there was a college fund for me all my life,” she says. She has known from the start that money would be a major factor in her college choice, especially because her father has been diagnosed with lung cancer. 

She applied to schools where she thought she would have a strong chance of getting a scholarship based on her high grades. That strategy worked well. Fairfield University in Connecticut offered Haleigh, who wants to be a teacher, like her mother, a $25,000 annual scholarship and a place in the honors program. 

Some critics say that giving merit aid to middle-class students keeps out students from lower-income families. But, says Haleigh: “You can look at my parents’ income and say that they can pay full price. But then you’re not calculating the fact that I have older siblings and that my dad has been sick. If I didn’t get merit aid, then there’s no way I could have applied to these schools....” 

She says her teachers at New Rochelle High School have given her new perspective on the drama of the college application process: “If you don’t get into your top school, 10 years from now you will look back and college will have been great, and it won’t have mattered that you didn’t get in.”

Almost $50,000 at Cornell University  

ADAUGO EZIKE’s parents put getting into a top college high on the family’s agenda. Her two older brothers are studying engineering: Jide at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and Kayode at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. When Jide was looking at schools, their father, George, and his wife, Miriam, who attended university in their native Nigeria, made all the kids come along to let them know what they were working toward. 

Adaugo, who also wants to be an engineer, will graduate in the top 10 percent of her class at New Rochelle High School. But academics haven’t been the only thing on her mind as she thinks ahead to college. Her youngest brother, Dioka, age 14, has been diagnosed with autism. “He needs attention,” Adaugo says. “Being the only one at home is going to be very different for him.” 

Her brothers got substantial financial aid from their schools and other scholarships. Adaugo was offered generous scholarships at some of the best engineering schools and a place on waiting lists at schools she’s still interested in. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., gave her almost $50,000 a year in aid, and she decided to go there: “The campus was beautiful and the people were welcoming. My hunch says that Cornell is the right choice.”

A full-aid package at Harvard University

CAMILLE N’DIAYE-MULLER, a talented dancer considering a career in international law, was thrilled to learn in December that she’d been accepted to Princeton University in New Jersey with a full scholarship through the QuestBridge program, which links low-income students with top schools. 

“She was very happy ... jumping and crying at the same time,” recalls her mother, Marie-Ange N’Diaye, a high school teacher in the Bronx. Her mother was impressed by Camille’s independence throughout the admissions process: “She is really somebody who is doing every single step on her own.... She wants to achieve on her own.”

There were more achievements to come. In March, Camille, who will graduate in the top 10 percent of her New Rochelle High School class, was accepted at Harvard University and Wellesley College. Harvard offered a financial aid package that doesn’t require her mother to pay anything, so Ms. N’Diaye told Camille that she could make the choice herself. 

Camille visited Princeton twice and was very impressed with the academics, the other students, and just about everything on the campus. Then, a few days before the May 1 decision deadline, she went to Boston to visit Harvard and Wellesley. In the end, she accepted Harvard’s offer.

“I was hesitant to give up such a great opportunity at Princeton,” she says, but after visiting Harvard, she was won over by talking with future classmates, “some of the most interesting, multifaceted people I’ve ever met.”

This project is a partnership between the Monitor and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University. © 2014 The Christian Science Monitor and the Hechinger Report.

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