Wynne, Arkansas is, according to many people, a friendly place. In fact, its citizens proudly refer to their town as "the city with a smile." So maybe it was only natural for Wynne native Amanda Rushing to feel an immediate connection with Ozarks when she arrived on campus for her first visit.
Being viewed as "friendly" is usually a nice thing. As Amanda began researching colleges and universities, of course she wanted to find a place where she’d feel welcomed. But she wasn’t choosing a university just because it was "friendly" - she was looking for three specific things. Amanda wanted a university where she would feel comfortable, that would challenge her academically, and that she and her family would be able to afford.
Amanda’s journey to Ozarks began with a simple campus visit. Now she considers the decision to enroll to be one of the best one’s she’s ever made.
Because she had been selected as an Arkansas Governor’s scholar, Amanda knew that academically, she probably qualified to attend any college or university in the state. However, she had head about University of the Ozarks from a friend, who described the university with words like "friendly," "family," and "welcoming" - it sounded much like Amanda’s hometown of Wynne. So Amanda decided that she would begin her college search with a visit to Ozarks. During her visit, she listened carefully to the tour guide, talked with a professor, and asked lots of questions. In the end, she said the decision was an easy one. "Ozarks was my first and only choice," she said. "Once I visited Ozarks, no other candle could hold a flame to it for me. It was the only school I applied to."
And now, as she prepares for her second semester, Amanda is convinced that choosing Ozarks was one of the best decisions she has ever made. As it turned out, Ozarks is everything she was looking for. "Everyone is so friendly and close that it feels like home," she says. "That’s good, considering that home is three hours away. The campus is beautiful, the people great, and the classes are challenging enough to keep me interested and engaged."
Friendly and academically challenging - those were two of Amanda’s selection criteria. But there was a third factor that was very important in her selection process…could she afford the school she had selected? "From the moment when I first toured Ozarks," Amanda said, "they told me that based on my academics I could definitely get half of my tuition covered - probably more if I competed for the Hurie Scholarship." And when her financial aid package was complete, Amanda said she was astounded to learn just how much scholarship aid Ozarks was able to offer her. "It was amazing to look at that price tag and to already see deductions coming off of it before I’d even applied," she said.
The university offers scholarship aid at a number of levels, ranging from $500 up to the full cost of tuition. According to Jana Hart, Ozarks Dean of Financial Aid, it isn’t unusual for a student and his or her parents to look at the overall cost of an institution and mark that school off their list. However, she emphasized that students who follow Amanda’s approach are often surprised when they learn just how much aid they can receive. She encourages students to visit the institutions they like - even if the price makes it seem out of reach - and learn as much as they can about the financial aid options each school offers.
As a Governor’s Scholar, Amanda would receive scholarship money from the state to pay some of her college expenses. But she was relieved to learn that Ozarks was willing to invest in her success too. In addition to her Governor’s Scholarship, Amanda qualified for the Ozarks Academic Distinction Scholarship, which covers all her remaining college costs. "The scholarships, to me, were a relief," she says. "With them I knew that my parents weren’t going to be paying for my school. I don’t like for my parents to have to pay for my things so this was really welcome. The only money I do have to pay can easily be covered by my college savings account. I know my parents feel proud of me for receiving the [scholarships]."
The upcoming semester promises to give Amanda exactly the kind of academic challenge she was looking for when she began her college search. As a Spanish major, she has enrolled in Intensive Intermediate Spanish, a course which will build on her current knowledge of Spanish grammar and vocabulary. And since she also wants to teach, she plans to take Theories of Human Learning, which will give her the chance to explore different theoretical approaches to teaching and learning.
Amanda will also spend her spring break on an 11-day excursion in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany with fellow classmates in the Castles and Cultures of the Danube course. "I’m very excited to take part in the upcoming trip," Amanda said. "I’ve looked over the preliminary itinerary for the trip and each stop has something that I’m looking forward too." As a self-described HUGE Disney fan, she said she is really excited about getting to see Neuschwanstein Castle, the structure that inspired the Sleeping Beauty Castle at the Disneyland Resort. But Amanda believes trips like those arranged through her classes at Ozarks give students much more than just an opportunity to see historic landmarks. "The most memorable moments often come from getting to know your trip-mates, meeting the locals, looking at everything, and discovering those hidden gems that the travel guides often miss," she said. "I’m looking forward to seeing how this trip unfolds, and seeing what memories will be made."
While Amanda still has three years as an undergraduate, she is already excited by where her college journey has taken her, and is thinking ahead to where her degree will lead. "After I graduate from Ozarks I hope to get certified to teach high school Spanish and then to teach for a few years," she says. "After that, I would like to get my masters and continue teaching." She is using her experience at Ozarks to make her own travel guide for the future. And just maybe, as her journey unfolded, Amanda realized that she has found a fourth, and unexpected, thing in Ozarks - that hidden gem she didn’t even realize she was looking for.