Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati is a public high school for grades 7-12. Ranked one of America's Best High Schools by U.S. News, it is open to any student in Cincinnati who tests reasonably well. Walnut Hills is culturally and ethnically diverse, and some 95 percent of its graduating seniors go on to four-year colleges. We asked eight seniors to talk about applying for college.
The hardest part of the application process for mechanical engineering student Michael Strickland was deciding between his finalists: Ohio State (free ride) and Columbia University (which offered to pay for most, but not all, of his tuition). Michael picked Columbia for the out-of-state experience, its core curriculum (he'll have to take some liberal arts classes), "hands-on opportunities," and community service focus. Michael's high school experience was well rounded: He scored in the top 10 percent of his class, he loves art—and he worked as a caddie to help his single-parent mom.
GPA: 3.5 unweighted
SAT/ACT scores: 650 math, critical reading 700, 680 writing/29 composite
Extracurrics: National Society of Black Engineers, Minorities in Mathematics, Science and Engineering, NAACP Youth Council president
Essay: How his cultural, religious, family background affected him
Notable: Michael also got into Howard, Cincinnati, and Miami (Ohio); he was wait-listed at Michigan.
Early rule-outs: Tech institutes. "I'm an artist, too—I don't want a strict math and science [curriculum]."
Choosing a school: "You've got to boil it down to your most basic needs: What do you want to get out of your education?"
Staying organized: Michael admits to needing help. To-do lists work—and checklists.