Hitching a ride

Hitching a ride

By Caitlin Coyle

As the cost of attending college increases, students with laudable accomplishments from all across the world have high hopes of receiving a full academic scholarship.

The situation is no different for students applying to Northeastern University. One thing that has changed in recent years is that the applicant pool of the university has gone from being one of the “underdogs” of colleges in the Boston area, to a competitive and highly regarded institution.

As Northeastern’s reputation strengthens, the number of freshman applicants has grown dramatically causing a more selective admissions process and higher competition for scholarships. This year applications topped 30,000, doubling the number of applicants in 2000, said John Natale, media relations and public relations (PR) specialists of the PR department.

Often, students chosen to receiving a full academic scholarship admit receive the scholarship leads to an opportunity of a lifetime. Though they remain busier than ever, scholarships provide them with a number of educational and extramural opportunities like being able to spend more time involved student-run groups on campus.

The admissions department is in charge of awarding students academic scholarships, said Maritsa Barros, admissions counselor for the admissions department. She also said, the decision process behind who receives what type of financial aid is not easy.

However, once awarded a scholarship, students must work hard to keep them. In addition to maintaining a 3.5 GPA, many full academic scholarship recipients participate in a variety of school and community activities.

Laura Cedro, an Ell Scholar and middler pharmacy major, is a member of the ultimate Frisbee team and on co-op at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Ell scholars are chosen from the top 1 percent of freshman applicants who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, according to the Northeastern financial aid website.

Besides practicing three to four times a week, Cedro spends every weekend at ultimate Frisbee tournaments at schools like Yale and Boston College.

“It’s a big time commitment, but I really enjoy it,” Cedro said. “If I had not gotten the scholarship I would have not been able to go to Northeastern.”

How was Cedro able to obtain her free ride? She presented a jam-packed resume.

In high school, Cedro was class president, captain of the soccer, cross-country running and track teams, the class salutatorian and secretary of the Student Government Association. She also ran conferences for middle school students on the topic of health and wellness. Before graduating, Cedro won a series of awards in high school, like her school’s senior science award and the Air-Force math and science award.

After college Cedro plans to fulfill a residency in Boston to get more clinical experience. But right now she plans to continue taking advantage of a free college education.

“I just feel like the luckiest kid ever,” she said. “[Receiving this scholarship] has been the best opportunity given to me so far.”

There are many full academic scholarships offered to Northeastern students besides the Carl S. Ell Scholarship including the Ralph J. Bunche Scholarship, the Reggie Lewis Memorial Scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, the Boston Public High School scholarship and the Torch Scholarship.

The recipients are selected based on many significant academic and extracurricular achievements. Every scholarship encompasses a particular attention and devotion to scholastic excellence, said Dean of Admissions Ronnie Patrick Turner.

Though there is no official formula in the selection process, certain criteria must be visible in a student’s application, Turner said.

The Ralph J. Bunche and Reggie Lewis Memorial Scholarships are administered to the top 2 percent of freshman applicants, according to the Northeastern financial aid website.

Third-year students who have demonstrated excellence in their major, in liberal arts courses and in their co-op placements are eligible for the Presidential Scholarship. This full-tuition scholarship is renewable for recipients who maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5, have completed their co-op placements and maintain progress toward their degree.

Twenty scholarships are awarded to Boston Public High School students who are nominated by an educational professional and are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

The final full-tuition award is the Torch Scholarship. The Torch Scholarship is different in that it awards students who may not match the grades or SAT scores of other scholars, but show the potential for academic superiority. Educational professionals nominate candidates who have faced significant personal, educational, and/or socioeconomic disadvantages or hardships that prevented them from reaching their full academic potential, according to the Northeastern admissions website.

“Torch Scholars are students who may not qualify for admission based on past academic performance but who clearly demonstrate other personal qualities indicative of their ability to succeed at Northeastern. The program includes a Summer Immersion Program prior to freshman year,” according to the site.

The Summer Immersion Program is designed to prepare the scholars for the rigor of college academics, according to the site. During their time in the program, the scholars participate in team-building-exercises and full-time summer courses.

There are many misconceptions harbored by applicants, students and parents surrounding the scholarship selection process, said Turner. One common misconception is that financial aid awarding is too focused on SAT scores. In actuality, the main focus of how awards are decided changes from year to year, Turner said.

“One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that the process is very selective and looks at the applicant pool for that year,” Turner said. “Five years ago someone’s profile [for a particular scholarship] may look quite different than today.”

Every application is read and rated individually in comparison to the other applications, Turner said. The students are judged on their community involvement and personal characteristics.

An applicant’s letters of recommendation are a significant factor in the application, as almost all applicants have a high GPA, SAT score and strong personal characteristics, Turner said.

Consequently, the decisions are not based on one factor, but a set of academic, community and personal achievements. Along with leadership activities, one’s essay is a key component in the selection process, Turner said.

The application process for financial aid is reviewed cumulatively.

“The selection process is not just about a number or a magic formula,” Turner said. “If it were, it would be a lot easier to explain.”

Many other full academic scholarship students feel the same as Cedro and said they believe it is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of.

Marisa Levine, a middler political science major and Bunche scholar, is preparing for a Dialogue of Civilizationa trip to Geneva, Switzerland.

“The thought of having Northeastern pay for me to go to Geneva is wild,” she said.

Like Cedro, Levine’s accomplishments gave her the chance to receive a full ride, she said.

In high school, Levine created a mock trial club and was active in theater as well as her high school’s Model United Nations. She taught religious school at the local synagogue in her hometown, Pittsburg, Penn. Along with her near-perfect SAT scores, Levine held a high GPA.

She continues to strive for the best while in college. During her sophomore year Levine was an intern at the State House. Shortly after, she spent her first co-op working at a law firm in downtown Boston and, most recently, was selected for an event planning position at the Harvard Kennedy School of Politics.

Levine is also part of Northeastern’s Model UN. This year she served as head delegate at the Model UN conference at Harvard University.

Levine said she is thankful she does not have to be too budget-conscious thanks to the award. However, she is most grateful for her scholarship because she will be able to attend graduate school without accumulating debt, she said.

Brittany Sidway, a junior environmental studies major and Bunche scholar, also has another busy schedule.

In high school, Sidway was involved in the production of more than 17 plays and won an award in a statewide theatre competition. She also funded and ran a gay and straight alliance. Sidway’s summers were spent at her local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) working with children.

In college, Sidway has continued working with children as part of NU Jumpstart, a program that pairs students with disadvantaged pre-schoolers. The program is geared to help the children build literacy and social skills.

Sidway approached her college education in an unprecedented style, taking two semesters off while living on a bus and traveling across the United States.

Sidway said although she entered Northeastern with excitement, she was unsure which academic path to pursue. For Sidway, the cross-country trip brought her closer to not only the environment, but to her academic and career aspirations.

“[The trip allowed me to] absolutely know what I want to do with my life,” Sidway said.

In the future Sidway plans to work for an organization that helps low-income youth. Her hope is to create a program that partners education and nature, giving underprivileged children an opportunity to experience the outdoors, she said.

“I’ve always planned on doing things that will help people,” she said. “Now that I have this scholarship, I feel like it is my obligation to give back what I’ve been given.”

Sidway said she hopes other scholars will spread the goodwill of Northeastern through their own experiences, because accomplished students have been partly responsible for the increase in interest in the university.

Turner said academic students’ influence can inspire other talented students to apply, strengthening Northeastern’s student body.

“If our students are having a good experience, then others will follow behind,” she said.

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