Find a direction: Choosing a college

High school seniors across Johnson County are in the final stages of picking how they want to spend the next four years of their lives. They’re sorting out what college to attend, what area to study and how to pay for a college education. Here’s a look at how four area students are making the call:

Classroom inspires career path

For one Indian Creek High School senior, deciding what to study in college was just as much of a challenge as deciding what school she wanted to attend next fall.

To help narrow down her career options, Haylie Smith took part in a work-based learning class where she had the opportunity to be a intern in a local elementary school classroom for three hours several times each week.

Her responsibilities in the second-grade classroom — including reading to students, grading and helping administer tests — convinced Smith that she wanted to be an elementary teacher herself, ideally with students in the first- to third-grade range.

While Smith initially planned to spend her fall semester at the elementary school and work with a dentist in the spring, she got hooked in by teaching and decided to continue doing it for the full school year.

In searching for colleges to attend, Smith focused on public colleges in the Indiana area, with the goal of being able to stay close to her extended family, most of whom live in Johnson County.

Once her first choice — Ball State University — said she was only on a waiting list, Smith applied to both IUPUI and the University of Southern Indiana.

Having been accepted to both schools, the choice came down to which one was closer to home, she said.

Rather than living on campus next year, she is going to make the 45-minute commute north to Indianapolis each day. It’s a decision that will save her more than $10,000 on room and board.

With tuition costs of about $9,000 a year, Smith is looking for scholarships.

Sleeping on it helps give clarity

One hallmark of the college application process is searching for scholarships. For many scholarships, students either need to have certain grades, volunteer experiences or essays to earn the money.

But for one scholarship Greenwood Community High School senior Addie Harris applied to, only students that are left-handed can receive it. Having been born into that 10 percent of the population, it was one of of the odder ones she found during her scholarship search.

Harris plans to study English in college, with the goal of working as a book editor for a publishing company.

“I’ve always been good at English and I wanted to find a career where I could spend my entire day reading,” she said.

She prefers to read young adult fiction of any genre. Her favorite author? Rick Riordan, who is know for the “Percy Jackson” series.

Her focus: looking for a small school in the Indiana area with a liberal arts education and a travel abroad program.

Hanover College, DePauw University and Butler University were three schools she narrowed her choice down to and visited last summer, but it took a second visit to Hanover to make her choice official.

An overnight trip to Hanover College, where she got to stay in dorms with students and attend classes, was much more helpful than the previous tours she had attended.

Harris ended up applying to both DePauw and Hanover last year, but a full tuition scholarship from Hanover made the choice easy. While the annual cost of attending is $46,000, she will only have to pay $11,000 a year for room and board.

“It is a weight off my shoulders not to worry about it any more,” she said.

Her grandparents have money set aside for her and she has a job she is using to save money as well, which means that she should get through college without needing to use any student loans.

Finding a job after is important

Making sure her degree would lead to a job in the field she studied was the main concern for one Greenwood student deciding on what major to pursue.

While Sarah Wheeler knew she loved science, she wasn’t sure how she wanted to apply that interest in college. Some of the options she has considered include nutrition and dietetics, dermatology and chemistry.

“I’m a health nut,” Wheeler said. “I love nutrition. I love learning about how different components of food effect your body.”

However, she decided not to go into that field because of worries that there aren’t many available jobs in it.

For now, her plans are to study chemistry as her undergrad, with the possibility of continuing on for a masters in dermatology.

Wheeler said she has had her heart set on Purdue since she began looking at colleges last spring.

“I visited Purdue over the summer; it was beautiful,” she said.

Even though Wheeler was drawn to Purdue and was accepted into the school in December, she also applied to six other colleges.

“I didn’t need to apply to so many, but I wanted to have options,” she said.

The University of Indianapolis was the only other school she gave any consideration to, Wheeler said.

Because of her dad’s military service — he is a disabled veteran — Wheeler will receive tuition assistance, which will be enough to cover all of her tuition costs. That will still leave her to pay for the $10,000 in room and board.

To cover those costs, Wheeler is continuing to work at Beauty Brands in Greenwood while also applying for scholarships.

Size, cost keys for decision

Two of the schools the Center Grove High School student was accepted into couldn’t be more opposite.

Ashley Varney was left between choosing to attend Purdue University, a public school with more than 40,000 students, or Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a small private school in Terre Haute with only 2,000 students.

In applying to colleges, Varney said she wanted to make sure she had a range of sizes in schools to choose from to see what environment she would be most comfortable in.

She applied to both Purdue and Rose-Hulman, along with Harvard, Yale and Vanderbilt, based on their engineering and chemistry programs.

Varney’s interest in those fields stems from her father, a engineer with Rolls-Royce.

Getting to see how he used math and science in his career helped Varney see how the subjects she was studying in school could be applied.

While she initially wanted to take directly after her dad and study mechanical engineering, the chemistry class she took in her junior year of high school piqued her interest in that area of study.

Varney plans to study bio-chemistry at Purdue, with the goal of getting a research or pharmacy job afterward.

She was accepted into Rose-Hulman and Purdue. The cost difference between attending the schools  — nearly $50,000 a year — was a major factor, she said.

With a combination of her part-time job, her parents’ savings and scholarships, Varney doesn’t anticipate needing to use any student loans.

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2702.