Ashley Lowe's approach to choosing colleges was unconventional: She had them seek her out. In 10th grade, she took the pre-ACT PLAN test and allowed schools to contact her. Nearly 80 did, over two years. Ashley, her mom, and her guidance counselor winnowed the list to six. Although her top pick, Columbia, rejected her, she still played hard to get. Three suitors were vying for Ashley in the end: Kettering University, Rose-Hulman, and Tennessee Tech. Kettering in Flint, Mich., won Ashley over with its financial support. Ashley will major in computer science with a focus on video design and development.
GPA: 3.52 unweighted
SAT/ACT scores: 690 math, 640 critical reading, 630 writing/30 composite
Extracurrics: Golf and bowling teams, volunteering, working at Opryland Hotel
Essay: Her father's positive influence
Negotiate, negotiate: In April, Ashley appealed the financial aid packages from her top three suitors; all offered more, but Kettering did best. "I'll only be $7,000 in debt at the end of each year."
Her approach: "I didn't look at any schools," she says, figuring, "if they contacted me, they will probably help me."
On testing: Took SAT and ACT only once, as she hit or nearly hit her goals of 2,000 and 30.
Organizational tip: On her cell, she kept all PIN numbers, passwords, and user names for different schools' accounts. When she called with questions and they asked for her school ID or for the Common App, she had them handy.
Biggest surprise: Still not hearing by early May about scholarships she'd applied for
On packaging herself: "I can multitask. I can plan. I can organize."
Searching for a college? Get our America's Best Colleges 2010 complete rankings.