It was down to the wire for Olivia D’Orazio, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School.
She found out March 10 she had received a four-year Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Commanders Scholarship that would pay full tuition for either the University of Florida or Auburn University. Along with other scholarships she will get, that will add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is key at a time when President Joe Biden hasn't decided whether to follow through on campaign promises to cancel at least portions of the $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt. D'Orazio won't have that worry.
Those scholarship offers were important when D’Orazio had 24 hours to decide where she would begin college in August before the deadline arrived to notify either Florida or Auburn and accept the scholarships.
With the pressure on, D’Orazio and her father, Joe D’Orazio, jumped in the car and drove to Gainesville to visit the University of Florida.
While on the University of Florida’s campus, D’Orazio felt the school just wasn’t for her, and Auburn would be her next home.
“I loved Auburn,” said D’Orazio, who graduates with her Lakewood Ranch High classmates 7 p.m. Friday, May 20 at LECOM Park. “The campus was gorgeous, the people were wonderful there and they have a good engineering program. It was out of state, which was nice. The overall benefits of Auburn ended up outweighing the benefits of UF.”
She wouldn't have been able to select between the two, and others, if it weren’t for the multiple scholarship offers she received.
“It’s rewarding to be able to make the decision to go out of state because had I not gotten the scholarships, it wouldn’t have been feasible,” D’Orazio said. “It’s definitely opened up a lot of doors in that respect. It’s rewarding because I did work hard throughout high school to have this option.”
Scholarships can help seniors’ desire to attend their dream schools, and the top students can, like D'Orazio, earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid.
D'Orazio ranked 27th of her class of 579 students and her weighted GPA was 4.47.
Before receiving her various offers from universities including Texas A&M, Florida, Alabama, and Auburn, D’Orazio thought Florida would be her top choice as financial constraints would force her to stay in the state.
But now she will attend Auburn University and be a part of the university’s ROTC program.
“I’ve wanted to serve for as long as I can remember,” D’Orazio said of her desire to eventually join the military. “Taking advantage of the opportunity to have it cover college doesn’t hurt either.”
D’Orazio decided to join the Air Force ROTC because she’s majoring in environmental engineering, and she said the Air Force has more opportunities to lead her to engineering jobs.
Besides being a member of JROTC, she has logged more than 350 volunteer hours with groups such as Southwest Florida Therapy Animals, Project Manatee, Manatee BUDS, Suncoast Reading Coalition, and the Farmhouse Sanctuary.
She isn't the only local student whose hard academic work has led to big scholarship offers. Gabriel French, a senior at Braden River High School, has received at least $150,000 in scholarships and is waiting to hear whether he will receive money from more than 20 other scholarships for which he has applied.
French, who will graduate with his Braden River classmates 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at LECOM Park, said every scholarship he receives is proof his hard work throughout high school has literally paid off.
He maintained a high GPA, took several Advanced Placement courses, completed his service hours for Bright Futures in his sophomore year and continued to be involved in various extracurricular activities throughout high school.
“Freshman through junior years, it wasn’t really resonating,” French said. “I knew I was doing a lot of work. I was taking a lot of hard classes and it was showing in my grades, but even having a 4.1 weighted GPA, I’m still only in the top 20% of my class. I have a very academic senior class, so I was worried because all I’ve heard was you need to be in the top 10%. Once I started realizing all the different doors that are open to me just for what I had done with service, my grades and taking AP and honors courses, it was a big weight off my shoulders.”
French had received scholarship offers from South Florida, Central Florida, Florida Polytech and the Florida Institute of Technology.
Having scholarships has given him the opportunity to choose which school he would attend based on his ambition to become a mechanical engineer in the theme park industry rather than on what university he could afford to attend. He chose the University of Central Florida.
French said he chose UCF for its engineering program, variety of clubs, events and activities and close proximity to theme parks.
“I’m looking forward to having classes oriented to what I want to do,” French said. “(High school) electives are great and some will definitely help but being able to focus my time on what I’m doing for the future is going to be great.”