By Kelsey Ryan
Adrianne Elliott is getting a full ride to Yale University
Elliott, a senior at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, is one of three area students who have been named Gates Millennium Scholars. Elliott and the other two, Angus Bennion and Meghan Williams, are among 1,000 high school students in the country whose undergraduate schooling will be paid for through the program. Some students, if they enter certain fields such as computer science and engineering, also would qualify for a free ride in graduate school.
For Elliott, the scholarship will cover about $58,000 in tuition and related expenses per year.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me,” she said. “If it weren’t for these scholarships and for the financial aid from Yale, I wouldn’t be able to get such an amazing education. It’s a big deal for me. It’s opening a lot of doors for my future, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Although she’s technically undecided on a major, Elliott said she’s interested in law or science. She applied for the scholarship program in January after her mother saw it online. She wrote several essays and contacted the Cherokee Nation for status verification. She thinks her church volunteer work and other extracurricular activities helped her application stand out.
This year, more than 24,000 students applied to the program, making it the largest group of candidates in the program’s history.
Bennion, a senior at East Newton High School in Granby, plans to attend Brigham Young University and study international relations. The scholarship could cover more than $16,000 in yearly tuition and expenses.
“It’s amazing because I come from a large family, and I’m the first born and my parents would have had a hard time supporting me through college,” Bennion said. “This is great for me and my family. We don’t have to worry except to focus on schoolwork.”
Bennion may defer his attendance if his two-year mission trip through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints happens first. Bennion is bilingual; he speaks Japanese and English. He said he hopes to learn more languages in college. His advice to students interested in scholarships is simple: Keep everything.
“Keep a record of everything you do in clubs, organizations, sports and work,” he said. “Start applying early and practice writing essays because there’s going to be a lot of them.”
Williams is a senior at Riverton (Kan.) High School. Williams, who plans to attend the University of Oklahoma this fall and study pharmacy, said she wouldn’t be able to afford her college of choice if it weren’t for the scholarship program.
“It was like a huge weight was lifted off of my chest,” Williams said. “OU wasn’t going to happen unless I got this scholarship because it is so expensive.”
Williams applied in January, and had to get in touch with the Chickasaw Nation, send transcripts and write several essays. Her scholarship will cover about $29,000 a year in tuition and expenses. She thinks what made her essays stand out was her effort to personalize them.
“I didn’t write about a broad subject that could be anyone’s essay,” she said. “I think that anybody who has a chance to apply should fill it out and take the chance. It’s a long process, and people don’t necessarily want to take time to do it. But you won’t lose anything if you try, and if you do get it, you gain a lot.”
THE PROGRAM WAS STARTED in 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its goal, according to www.gmsp.org, is “to promote academic excellence and to provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need to reach their highest potential.”