BY KYRA BACON
While many academically-motivated seniors have strived to get into the best and most prestigious of colleges, some have had to focus on tuition concerns and scholarship applications above all else. Getting into a highly-ranked college is one thing, but when faced with expensive, private-school or out-of-state level tuition, sometimes an acceptance isn’t enough. For Cooper City High School seniors Spencer Pearlman and Sarah Park, however, their hard work paid off, granting them hefty scholarships to their dream schools.
When Pearlman found out that he had won the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, granting him a total of $120,000 in tuition to attend four years of any college of his choice, it was a dream come true. A similar experience occurred for Park, who wished to attend NYU Tisch School of Musical Theater, but didn’t have the finances for it. Her scholarship of $61,000 per year not only granted this wish, but cemented her career decision to follow her passion for the arts.
“When I first saw that I got the scholarship, I thought it was a practical joke and couldn’t believe it had happened,” Pearlman said. “I forgot that I had even applied to the scholarship because it was so early in the year, so I was really surprised.”
University of Southern California, Pearlman’s first choice, had originally cut his tuition and housing in half. However, because he refused to take out a student loan to cover the extra $30,000 a year, Pearlman thought that USC wouldn’t be an option until he won the scholarship.
“Most people have to decide between colleges for monetary reasons, but for me, I could just choose where I wanted to go,” Pearlman said. “I couldn’t afford to go anywhere if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship, so it allowed me to go to college.”
When she first heard of her huge scholarship, Park was overwhelmed at the chance to go to the school of her dreams. She had already been accepted to NYU beforehand, but wasn’t sure if she could have afforded it. A selective theater program at the University of Miami had also accepted her, but with only $8,000 in grant money, Park was in need of further financial help.
“I wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited about NYU because I knew I probably couldn’t afford it,” Park said. “I checked the decision 5th hour because I just couldn’t wait any longer and was overwhelmed when I saw how much they had given me.”
For both hardworking CCHS seniors, the application process was long and grueling. Everyday after school for a month, Pearlman progressed his way through the 12 essays, two recommendation letters and phone interview. Each essay required a minimum of 200 words, with topics ranging from personal values to community service. Reaching up to five drafts per essay, Pearlman was grateful when his work was finally done.
“It was a long and lengthy process, and I had to reread the essays to make sure everything was right,” Pearlman said. “I didn’t mind though because for $30,000 a year, I’ll take it.”
Park had a very different application process than Pearlman, but it required just as much preparation and concentration. In December of last year, Park flew to NYC to audition at ten different schools as part of an event called Unified that brought all the schools together for students to apply all at once. For one year beforehand, Park trained endlessly singing and acting to prepare for this opportunity and her efforts paid off. While NYU only gives out $1,000-$25,000 in scholarships to select individuals per year, it certainly made an exception for Park. Tisch, NYU’s School of Musical Theater, is about $70,000 in tuition per year, compared to $50,000 for regular students, so Park needed all the help she could get.
“I fell in love with NYU, but my coaches all told me that while it was a great school for acting, it was really expensive,” Park said. “I put a lot of faith in God throughout the year and I knew somehow I’d get a scholarship to go to college.”
Luckily for Park, the scholarship application was included in her NYU audition, so no extra work was needed. Park was also glad to hear that Tisch, like most schools, looked at all aspects of an applicant, including leadership, community service and passion in addition to academics.
Similar to the NYU scholarship, Pearlman’s grant factored in many different positions and accomplishments into the decision process, the most influential of which being his entrepreneurial business. He started the company over the summer during a Harvard program that he attended. Working alongside three others from the program, Pearlman turned his business idea into a reality, getting sponsored by Harvard Innovation Log. The product they created is a switch cover that one can write on and send messages, among other things. In the beginning of May, Pearlman flew to Boston to pitch his newly-created company to investors.
“We wanted to make something tangible that you can see and feel in this digitized world we live in now,” Pearlman said. “I think my company definitely helped me to get the scholarship and I’m grateful for that.”
However, it was more than just Pearlman’s knack for business that won him the scholarship. His high school experience in its entirety played a role, including his NHS presidency, Debate captainship for two years, numerous AP classes and high SAT scores. While he is grateful for all of his positions, Pearlman feels that NHS helped him most in the long run because it gave him topics to write about in essays, especially in the community service portion.
“I believe that NHS fine-tuned Pearlman’s leadership qualities and it helped him to learn how to deal with different types of personalities,” teacher and NHS advisor Dwayne Dixon said. “I’m extremely proud of Spencer for getting the scholarship, but at the same time, I wasn’t surprised that he got it because he is such a hard-working kid.”
For Park, her wide array of leadership roles and success in high school certainly helped as well. Her involvement with SGA since freshman year certainly played a part. Serving as an executive board member currently, Park has also earned the position as Alternate Student Adviser to the School Board of Broward County as a result of her SGA leadership, a feat few can claim to have achieved. Since the beginning of high school, Park knew she had to actively pursue leadership roles, challenging courses and community service in order to succeed. She is also current Parliamentarian of NHS and considers it another important aspect to her scholarship grant. However, she feels that her involvement in her church, Immanuel Mission International Ministries, and her Christian faith has had the most profound impact on her success.
“Sarah is a one-of-a-kind individual and her dedication and devotion to everything she does really helped her to get the scholarship,” teacher and SGA adviser Gloria Perez said. “She was always focused on what she wanted and worked towards her goal with such determination and I think that’s why she got it.”