Incoming St. Vincent College students say financial aid made dream possible
Andrew Speraw knew he wanted to go to St. Vincent College almost immediately when he began looking at colleges.
“I liked how small and close-knit it seemed and how friendly everyone was. And I want to be in finance and their finance program was really good,” Speraw said Friday as he and his parents waited to check out his room in Benedictine Hall on move-in day at the small college located just outside of Latrobe in a broad valley at the foot of the Chestnut Ridge.
The Speraws traveled over the mountain range, known locally as ‘The Ridge,' on the four-hour trip from their home just outside Hershey. It ended as they joined the line of cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles loaded with bedding, clothing, TVs, computers and incoming freshmen snaking up the hill toward the dorm known on campus as “Bennie.”
At the top of the hill, in a parking lot where party-themed music blasted from loud speakers, the families were greeted by a team of about 60 upperclassmen dressed in rainbow-hued, tie-dyed T-shirts identifying them as members of the orientation team. As each vehicle stopped briefly, team members rushed up to help them unload and move into the dorm.
Like families across the country facing soaring college costs, the Speraws weighed their son's options carefully.
Dan Speraw, a high school math teacher, said he never imagined his family would be able to swing an education for his youngest son at the private Catholic college — tuition sticker price $33,516 a year — known for its rigorous academics.
Then, he saw the aid package the college was offering.
“With all the scholarships and grants, it's cheaper than a state school,” he said. He said his oldest son recently graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where the sticker price for tuition and fees is a little over $10,000 a year.
Freshman after freshman cited the 171-year-old college's generous financial aid packages among the selling points that drew them to the school where Benedictine monks, some attired in long, dark robes, round out the faculty and staff.
Thomas Syphan, 18, of New Florence, a biochemistry major with dreams of medical school, stopped briefly outside Benedictine Hall and talked about the challenges ahead in his first semester as one of 465 members of the class of 2021.
“I'm taking 16 credits: biology and chemistry with labs, calculus and English. They call biology, chemistry and calculus the unholy trinity. All the biology majors have to take them their freshman year,” he said.
Syphan said St. Vincent made his college choice for him when it offered him one of its Wimmer scholarships, a full tuition award for four years.
“I've wanted to be a doctor as long as I could remember. But my dad said with six kids and college being expensive, we couldn't afford it, and I'd have to work hard and win as many scholarships and grants as I could,” he said.
For Olivia Lewis, 17, of Latrobe, moving into St. Vincent was like coming home. She attended high school at the Milton Hershey School, a boarding school in Hershey, where she racked up academic honors and a scholarship guarantee. Federal aid helped pick up the rest of the tab for the soft-spoken teen.
“I'm really excited,” she said, talking of her love of math and hope of becoming an engineer.
“She's a great student, and we wanted her to get a great education,” said her step-father, Dan Adelson, beaming.
Unlike Lewis, Lauren Kardasz, 18, of Leetsdale, heard about St. Vincent long before she saw it.
“A friend went to St. Vincent. He and his wife told me about it. And when I came here, I fell in love with it,” she said.
Kardasz is an English major. She is looking forward to a fresh start and new friends. But she conceded she is just a little leery of leaving her parents for the beginning of a long academic journey she hopes will culminate in admission to law school in four years.
“I'm getting a lot of financial aid, and we thought for the value, this was the best place for me to be,” she said, as her parents, Larry and Colleen, glanced down at St. Vincent's Bearcat football team practicing in the field below the dorm.