College options present tough choices for high school seniors

Posted: May 13, 2018 at 1:09 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Fayetteville High School senior Cesca Craig (left) speaks Thursday with Nate Magre (right), an advance placement history teacher, alongside her friend Ethan Favorite, a student at the University of Arkansas, during an academic signing ceremony in the Matthew Moore Library at the school. Craig plans to attend New York University and study anthropology.

Sarah Jong has lived in Fayetteville for all of her 17 years. She couldn't resist the chance to live in another city in a different part of the country.

Jong will graduate from Fayetteville High School this week. Rather than attend the major state school next door, she will head to Northwestern University, about a 10-hour drive away in Evanston, Ill.

Bound for top universities

Several dozen of this year’s high school graduates from Northwest Arkansas are heading to one of the nation’s top 25 universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Here are the universities this year’s graduates at the following high schools are planning to attend, according to guidance counselors.

Bentonville High School: Columbia University, Duke University, Harvard University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University

Bentonville West High School: Cornell University, Duke University

Fayetteville High School: Columbia University (2), Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rice University, University of Southern California, Yale University

Haas Hall Academy (Fayetteville and Bentonville campuses): Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Rice University, Stanford University (2), Vanderbilt University, University of California Berkeley, University of Notre Dame, University of Virginia

Rogers Heritage High School: none

Rogers High School: Vanderbilt University, Yale University

Siloam Springs High School: Emory University, Princeton University

Springdale Har-Ber High School: Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University (2), Rice University, University of Chicago (2), University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Washington University at St. Louis, Yale University (2)

Springdale High School: Northwestern University, Stanford University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Chicago (2)

Source: Staff report

She still thinks Fayetteville is a great place to grow up and go to school, but she was ready for a change. She applied to Northwestern -- widely regarded as one of the best schools in the nation -- through the early-decision process. She was accepted in mid-December. She already had been admitted to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

"Even if it was just for four years, I knew I needed to give myself new surroundings so I could grow as a person," she said.

Countless high school seniors wrestle with their college choices each year. Their decisions often come down to cost.

Jong isn't getting a scholarship from Northwestern, but a family history there was a factor for her. Her mother went for her undergraduate degree, and her grandfather went for his doctorate. Plus, she said, she really liked the campus.

Fayetteville High School's class of 2018 has seven students going to one of the nation's top 25 universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, according to Lesli Zeagler, college and career counselor at the school.

Most of Fayetteville High's graduates end up at the University of Arkansas. The state "makes it very hard to go away" for college because of the scholarship money available to high-achieving students, Zeagler said.

The state's Academic Challenge program provides four-year college students in Arkansas up to $14,000 over those four years. The only requirement is a score of 19 on the ACT. Students with at least a 32 on their ACT and a 3.5 grade point average may apply for the Governor's Distinguished Scholarship, which pays $10,000 per year.

The University of Arkansas' Honors College awards fellowships that provide $70,000 over four years to dozens of the top undergraduate students. National Merit Scholar finalists qualify for the Chancellor's Merit Scholarship, valued at $40,000 over four years.

Zeagler encourages students to pursue the schools they're interested in, but urges them to apply to the University of Arkansas just to see what kind of financial package they are offered.

"There are those who want to leave, to go away and experience something different. That's fine," Zeagler said. "But often those are full-paying students. Columbia, Cornell, Yale, Duke -- they all come with very heavy price tags. You have to have money to go."

Any Northwest Arkansas student looking to attend one of the nation's elite schools must be willing to move far from home.

The drive from Northwest Arkansas to Washington University in St. Louis -- the closest of U.S. News & World Report's top 50 national universities -- is about five hours. Only four other schools in the top 50 are within a 10-hour drive.

Most students coming out of Springdale's Har-Ber High School want to stay close to home, said Tami Cline, Har-Ber's lead counselor.

"But when you're talking about those kids looking at the elite schools, distance doesn't matter," Cline said. "They're more interested in the education. We have a large number that could have easily gone to the U of A, but they wanted an experience away from home."

Each of this year's 88 graduates of Haas Hall Academy, a Northwest Arkansas charter school known for its college-prep curriculum, will attend college this fall. Nine of them are attending one of the top 25 universities, and others were admitted to one of the top 25, according to Kelly Barnett, director of academy admissions and communications.

Andrew Elkins of Lowell is graduating from Rogers High School with a 4.3 grade point average and a 34 on his ACT. He applied to several out-of-state schools and got into Wake Forest University and University of Tulsa. He also was wait-listed at Columbia and Vanderbilt.

But Elkins chose to stay in the state after receiving the prestigious Honors College Fellowship from the University of Arkansas and the Governor's Distinguished Scholarship. It adds up to $110,000 over four years, more than covering his tuition.

Elkins, a Rogers School District resident his whole life, had been interested in attending schools on the East Coast, but the financial awards offered by the University of Arkansas convinced him to stay home.

"I kind of wanted to leave, just because I've lived here for 18 years. But I'm not upset that I'm not getting to leave," he said.

Elkins had to fill out an application and go through a selection process that involved attending Fellowship Weekend at the Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville. Finalists were interviewed.

The university offers the fellowship to between 70 and 80 students each year, according to the Honors College website. Elkins looks forward to studying abroad and taking as many classes as he wants with the money he'll receive in scholarships.

Eriife Adelusimo is graduating from Bentonville High School next weekend. She applied to numerous schools -- including four of the top 25 -- and was admitted to each one.

Her choice came down to Columbia University and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Texas school offered the more attractive financial deal, but Adelusimo couldn't shake the feeling she belonged at Columbia, located in New York City.

"One school felt like I was settling," she said. "And one was where I knew I would be challenged."

Upon returning from a visit to Columbia last month, Adelusimo and her parents had a deep conversation about the pros and cons of the two schools. Among the considerations was what being an alumna of a school like Columbia would do for her. She finally decided to enroll at Columbia.

She credits Alice Haney, Bentonville High School's post-secondary adviser, for helping her through the college search.

Bentonville High doesn't measure students' post-secondary success by the specific institutions to which they gain admission, Haney said. She wants students and their parents to know there are many college options available to them and if they put in the effort, they're bound to find a place that's a great fit for them.

"I want them to end up in a place they want to be, not somewhere they feel like they have to be," Haney said. "Students from Northwest Arkansas can and do go all over for college."

About 728 students will graduate from Bentonville High School this month, 83 percent of whom plan to pursue post-secondary education this fall at either a two-year or four-year school. Students from this year's class were admitted to seven of the nation's top 10 universities, Haney said.

It's great to highlight those students attending the nation's elite colleges and universities, but there are plenty of high-achieving students not going to those schools, she said.

"There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the country, yet sometimes we focus on a very small amount of those," she said.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Fayetteville High School senior Cesca Craig (center) smiles Thursday after presenting Kelly Williams, an advanced plac...

NW News on 05/13/2018