Why Did a Catholic High School Valedictorian Turn Down Ivy League Scholarships?

This kid has his head screwed on straight.

Details from the New York Daily News: 

Sal Cocchiaro knows numbers.

He just graduated as valedictorian of St. Francis Prep with a 100.7 average and won $480,000 worth of scholarships from seven Ivy League-caliber colleges. But this middle-class Bayside, Queens, kid chose a full four-year ride at Fordham University — just 30 minutes from home and family.

So how did the 17-year-old wind up with a 100-plus average?

“I took some advanced-placement college-level courses at (St. Francis) Prep, which gives you extra honors points,” says Sal, who has made the principal’s list every year since first grade.

The secret?

“My parents made my older brother — a Queens College journalism major — and I stay in and study during the week and be regular kids on the weekends,” he says. “God gave me a gift of learning without having to work too hard the way some people are naturally good-looking or athletically blessed. But I believe you get out of school what you put into it.”

When he graduated from Sacred Heart elementary school in Bayside, he was accepted into prestigious Regis High, Archbishop Molloy, Holy Cross and Brooklyn Tech.

“Everyone told me to go to Regis,” he says. “But those decisions are based just on an educational aspect of school. I chose to take a full scholarship to Prep because when I walked in I just felt comfortable, at home. I can only study, learn and excel if I’m comfortable. I need to be the one to lock myself down rather than have others impose it. And I wanted a school with girls.”

As a kid, he tried baseball, basketball and other sports but quickly gave them up because he wasn’t very good.

“But I became a fanatical Mets, Knicks and Jets fan,” Sal says. “I might not be able to tell you how good a player is by watching him. But give me a stack of raw data and I can tell you who to play and when. I’m reading ‘Moneyball’ right now. And my career goal in life is sports management.”…

…Why pick Fordham over other top colleges offering scholarships such as NYU, Harvard, Princeton, Vassar, Dartmouth, Georgetown and Cornell?

“I spoke to a former St. Francis Prep student named John Ketcham who’d chosen Fordham over Ivy League schools four years ago,” says Sal. “This year he was valedictorian at Fordham while I was valedictorian at Prep.”

Ketcham told him that people were going to tell him he was making a major mistake he’d live to regret by choosing Fordham over other schools. He has no regrets.

“John said that college, like high school, is what you make of it,” says Sal. “It came down to being comfortable. I was amazed by Princeton after my first visit. But I liked it less and less on my second and third visits. The parents were all rich. The kids were pompous. I felt inadequate.”

He liked Fordham more with each visit.

“Down-to-earth students,” he says. “Great business honors program with 20 students per semester. Continue my religious education. Close to home and the family aspect of my life, which is very important to me. Again, Fordham, like St. Francis Prep, made me feel comfortable, a place to excel.”

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