WILSON -- It's early in the year, but two Wilson High School seniors already have won free, four-year rides to college starting in the fall.
Karianne E. Kopchick, 18, has pulled in two impressive offers: a $403,000 scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and a $285,000 scholarship to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
Both scholarships cover tuition and room and board for four years. She wants to study biology and eventually become a a radiation oncologist.
Gretchen S. Schwarzmueller, 17, has received a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Niagara University worth $90,000. She plans to major in early childhood education and become a teacher.
Both students represent a tradition at Wilson High School -- small in numbers with 112 seniors this year -- where students attract a large number of college scholarships.
With about 127 seniors last year, the class of 2008 was offered a total of $3.9 million in scholarships, said JoAnn Carpenter, district guidance director.
Carpenter said the two seniors picked up scholarships quickly because they are both A-plus students. Karianne ranks fifth in her class; Gretchen is ahead of her, at number three. Both will graduate with an Advanced Regents Diploma with Honor and Distinction, Carpenter said.
Karianne, who is on her way to having earned 64 credit hours at Niagara County Community College, said she expects to graduate from the junior college this May with an associate's degree. "It's a liberal arts, mathematics and science degree with a concentration on math and science," she said.
Even though she's still in high school and involved in numerous activities on and off campus, Karianne said she has managed to complete her college degree by taking online classes and taking advantage of the College Acceleration Program classes that NCCC offers at Wilson High School.
Why an NCCC degree?
"Because it's kind of something unique, and sometimes in high school I don't always feel that challenged," she said, "so I was looking for another way to further my education, and it turned into an associate's degree."
She said she has not decided whether to accept one of the military offers yet, though she is leaning heavily in that direction. She said she is still waiting to hear from the University of Rochester and Clarkson University, which both offer medical programs she is very interested in.
If she attends one of the military academies, Karianne said, she will be required to serve five years in the military as an officer after graduation.
She said she was not really surprised to get the scholarships since both academies had her take part in weeklong academy programs last summer to get a feel for what college in the military is like.
She said she made it through fine: up at 5 a.m., running everywhere, drilling, always yelling responses and every aspect of one's life under military control 24-7. She liked it.
"I was pretty surprised I got the Niagara scholarship because I believe a lot of people wanted it," Gretchen said.
She also applied to St. Lawrence University and Niagara County Community College and picked up her scholarship "based on her high ACT college entrance exam score of 30 (out of a possible 36) and her 97 percent high school grade point average," Carpenter said.
To keep that scholarship, Gretchen said Niagara University requires her to to be part of its honors program. "And I have to maintain above a 3.25 average there," she said.
Gretchen is the second eldest of 14 children, the nine sons and five daughters of Anton and Arlene Schwarzmueller. They range in age from almost 2 to 21.
"I'd rather go to Niagara because it's closer to home," she said, and she can commute.
Last year, she taught a preschool class at her church. She also is involved in many activities, including her seat as first flute in her high school band.
"I'm thinking of being a teacher for children from birth to 6 years old because I like working with that age group," she said. "They are so interesting."