Atlantic County Institute of Technology’s top three graduates are going to Rowan University in the fall, where they will major in engineering.

ACIT seniors Christopher Frederikson, of Ventnor, Michael Paule, of Absecon, and Edward Kertz Jr., of Galloway Township, said they each looked at other engineering programs but ultimately decided Rowan had the best mix of affordable cost and quality. All three will get scholarships.

“I was accepted at five schools,” Paule said. “I went to see all of them. Rowan was the best combination.”

The Atlantic County Office of Education hosted the top high school and eighth-grade graduates from public schools in Atlantic County at the annual Academic Excellence Recognition Luncheon on Tuesday at the Clarion Hotel in Egg Harbor Township.

While it was a day to dream about the future, those dreams are rooted in a greater awareness of potential college debt and future job potential. While some graduates are off to Ivy League schools — at least three plan to attend Harvard University — many are staying closer to home at state colleges or going to a college that was not their first choice but offered them the best financial aid package.

Retired Galloway Township School Superintendent Douglas Groff, who has been master of ceremonies at the luncheon for years, said he found it interesting that so many of the honorees planned to major in very career-oriented fields, such as engineering, pharmacy and physical therapy.

Lauren Berger, of Hammonton, plans to attend the Rutgers School of Pharmacy. Michelina Hesse, of Mullica Township, will attend the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, also for pharmacy. Both students will get scholarships.

“The college is giving me some money, but it’s still a lot to go there,” Hesse said. “But it was the best choice for me and what I want to do.”

Andrea Olsen, of Hammonton, selected Richard Stockton College for its physical therapy program, a field she chose after experiencing problems with stress fractures in her legs that required therapy.

Buena Regional High School’s James Sabatini will attend Rutgers University and hopes to become a pediatric emergency physician. He’s getting $10,000 a year in financial aid and already works as an emergency medical technician in his hometown of Newfield, Gloucester County, both to get experience and earn money for college.

Some students are staying close to home so they can live at home.

Kasey Keller, of Estell Manor, a senior at Buena Regional, is going to Stockton to study computational science because he got a scholarship for free tuition. He’ll commute from home to save money, he said. Pleasantville senior Mihir Jani, of Absecon, also will commute to Stockton, where he got scholarship funds and will study biochemistry.

“My brother went there, and I know the campus,” Keller said. “I looked at other colleges, but nothing really popped out at me. I didn’t even apply anywhere else.”

Lydia Joanne McAllister, of Galloway Township, Absegami High School’s salutatorian, got a presidential scholarship from Stockton, worth about $18,000 a year, that will cover most of her costs, including housing on campus. She plans to study biology and for a career as a forensic pathologist.

Not all are going to their first-choice college, usually because of money.

Quadjira Carpenter, of Atlantic City’s East Campus High School, said she got an aid offer from a college in Vermont but couldn’t afford the rest of the cost, so she will go to Manor College in Pennsylvania, which is giving her more money, and she can play basketball, which keeps her motivated. She plans to be a preschool teacher.

Shannon Meglathery, of Northfield, Mainland Regional High School’s salutatorian, will study business at York College in Pennsylvania, because she won a competitive full-tuition scholarship. She admits York wasn’t among her top choices, but she still likes the college and is happy to be going there.

“I’m excited, and my parents are thrilled,” she said.

Pleasantville senior Mayar Osman’s dream school was Penn State, but it was too expensive. Instead, she will study engineering at Rowan, which offered her scholarships.

Some students are heading off to Ivy League schools, which offer a tremendous amount of need-based financial aid for students talented enough to be accepted.

Oakcrest High School senior Nyamekye Coleman, of Mays Landing, Atlantic City senior Dominique Voso, of Margate, and Egg Harbor Township High School senior Lola Agabalogun, will be heading to Harvard this fall.

Staying a bit closer to home are Egg Harbor Township’s Crystal Lu, Oakcrest’s James Townley, of Mays Landing, Hammonton senior Gabrielle Pullia, of Hammonton, and Atlantic City senior Brian Gallagher, of Margate, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Absegami’s Cara Ann Zampino, of Galloway, will go to Princeton.

Pullia said other colleges offered her more financial aid, but her family decided the opportunity to attend U. Penn was worth the extra cost. Voso said financial aid covered enough of the cost to make Harvard affordable. Agabalogun said other scholarships added to the funds from Harvard made it work for her.

Several students said they also applied for other merit scholarships. Groff joked that “scholarship” was a parent’s favorite word.

Nicolette Rallo, of Galloway Township, was awarded the $2,000 DeEdwin Hursey scholarship at the luncheon, given in memory of the former educator. Rallo plans to attend The College of New Jersey to major in special education and speech pathology.

“I’m not getting a lot of financial aid from (TCNJ),” she said. “Others offered more, but TCNJ had the best program. I just filled out applications for a lot of other scholarships, and I’m working.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.