Seniors at this Durham high school have $20M in college scholarships. How did they do it?

Greg Childress, The Herald Sun

Lamarius Green, left, and Alazar Mebrahtu complete an experiment during an International Baccalaureate level chemistry class at Hillside High School. Photo by Casey Toth, The Herald Sun

“We didn’t have as many athletic scholarship offers this year as we’ve had in the past, but they [athletic scholarships] have never exceeded the academic scholarships,” Logan said.

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Hillside High School Principal William Logan watches over students during lunchbreak in the school’s lobby. Photo by Casey Toth, The Herald Sun

It should be noted that scholarship offers are self-reported, meaning that the high schools depend on students to tell them about the scholarship offers. So, schools could have more scholarships offer than they report. Also, the reports include competing offers from colleges and universities.

“Hillside has developed a strong culture over the years of generating enthusiasm about scholarship offers and letting us know about them,” said Duram Public Schools spokesman Chip Sudderth.

College advisers

In addition to Hillside students’ aggressive pursuit of money for college, the predominantly African-American school where nearly 60 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches also has a college adviser who works for Carolina College Advising Corps.

The CCAC is a non-profit organization that helps low-income, first-generation and under-represented students from North Carolina attend college by placing recent UNC Chapel Hill graduates in high schools throughout the state to assist students with admission, financial aid and scholarship applications.

“We do know that scholarship dollars increase in schools when they partner with us,” said Yolanda Keith, the CCAC program director.

MaKayla Leak, the adviser at Hillside, is one of two assigned to DPS high schools. The other is assigned to Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.

Keith said there are 77 advisers working in school districts across the state. In Mecklenburg County, advisers were assigned to Cochrane Collegiate Academy, Garinger High School, Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, Rocky River High School, Vance High School, West Mecklenburg High School and West Charlotte High School.

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MaKayla Leak, a member of the Carolina College Advising Corps assigned to Hillside High School, is one of two assigned to Durham Public Schools. The other adviser is assigned to Southern School of Energy and Sustainability. Carolina College Advising Corps

Logan credits Leak, along with Hillside’s traditional school counselors, for students’ success at landing scholarships, but Leak says it’s the school’s seniors who did the heavy lifting.

“I bring them opportunities,” Leak explained. “They’re the amazing people who received the scholarships for their hard work.”

Leak’s work at Hillside includes helping students secure financial aid by assisting them, for example, with filling out Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. She also provides information about scholarships, assists with arranging college visits and bringing college recruiters to campus.

Leak said she and Hillside’s traditional counselors make sure students are prepared to make a good impression when they talk with college recruiters, some of who are prepared to offer students admission and scholarships on the spot.

“I think every year, students want to do better and be better,” Leak said.


Greg Childress writes for The Herald Sun, where this article originally ran. Information was contributed by Carolina College Bound editor Heidi Finley.