CATONSVILLE – Mona Shah said “no” to Johns Hopkins University, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown and a slew of other schools — and “yes” to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.
The draw? A fat wad of cash.
“I was offered a four-year scholarship,” said Shah, a senior from Germantown.
A recent survey by the Maryland Higher Education Commission found that the numbers of talented Maryland high school students who choose colleges within the state are growing, in large part because of lower tuition costs or better financial aid as a prime reason.
UMBC’s percentage of these high ability students has climbed from eight percent to 10 percent in the past six years. That puts the school in the same league as St. Mary’s College, where the percentage rose from four to six, and Johns Hopkins University, where it grew from six to nine.
Bobbie Shahpazian of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships said UMBC’s scholarships are “competitive with other schools.” UMBC offers a wide range, from $500 to a full ride with stipend for talented students. In return, Shahpazian said, “We ask a lot from our students.”
And the students deliver. Since 1990, UMBC’s average SAT scores have gone from 1,016 to 1,111 points of a possible 1,600, state education officials say. The school’s mean grade point average has jumped from 3.03 to 3.36 on a scale of 4.0 in four years, said Patty Futrell, UMBC Office of Admissions associate director.
UMBC is home to 9,217 full and part-time students and located only five miles from downtown Baltimore. In its 31-year existence, it has built a reputation for strong programs in science and technology. But it also draws students interested in traditional liberal studies and the arts.
Students like Shah, Randolph Albright, Rebekah de Wit and Jessica O’Neill have found UMBC both stimulating and easy on the pocketbook. All are on full scholarships.
Shah recalled that when she picked UMBC most of her fellow classmates at Montgomery Blair High School asked, “where?”
But the senior biochemistry major, who is awaiting replies to her applications to medical schools, likes UMBC because it is a “young school.” New ideas — specifically from students — are easily accepted, she said.
This past summer, Shah traveled to India, where she spent six weeks working at a rural clinic. She proposed the idea to UMBC and received college credit.
“I’ve had a great time here,” said Shah, who has a 3.75 grade point average. “I couldn’t have done better if I did go to an Ivy League school.”
De Wit, 20, is studying ancient studies and modern language and linguistics (French, Ancient Greek and Latin). The Glen Burnie High School graduate not only received a full ride at UMBC but an additional $5,000 for study abroad.
She has been to France, Egypt and London to increase her archeological knowledge. This summer she hopes to be in Italy — digging.
Despite all her traveling, the 4.0 junior from Severn is still able to fully enjoy UMBC — in the United States. “The language department is excellent,” they offer a “good variety” of classes each semester and the “number of scholarships is amazing,” de Wit said in a little more than a breath.
Albright, 18, chose UMBC over prestigious art schools. The freshman from Reisterstown is studying visual arts with a concentration in photography.
“Affordability is a definite advantage,” said Albright. But better yet is the balance among Greek life, sports, extra- curricular activities and the artist community, he said.
“It is a balance that everybody seeks in their life,” said Albright. He finds that balance himself — with a flawless 4.0, in working on opening an “alternative space for young artists” in Baltimore, and in showing his own work.
O’Neill, 20, of Abingden, left Edgewood Senior High School a year early and became a UMBC student in fall 1993. She is a senior majoring in modern language and linguistics (French and Spanish), minoring in economics, and maintains a 3.75 grade point average.
Like Shah and de Wit, O’Neill found that UMBC opened a window on the world for her.
She spent last semester in Mexico City at the National University. Not only was she given money to fund the trip, but a comfortable allowance to live on, she said.
The summer after her freshman year, O’Neill was in France renovating a 15th century castle.
While her choice of UMBC might have raised a few brows, O’Neill said UMBC’s “standards are going up” and that “high schoolers are going to recognize that UMBC is a promising place to get their education.” “My needs have been met,” she concluded. -30-