Lured by generous merit based academic scholarships, six members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Class of 2021 will be heading about 770 miles south this fall to attend the University of Alabama, which offers academic scholarships to strong students with good test scores. These scholarships can make attending Alabama significantly cheaper than going to the University of Illinois.

RBHS grad Eric Watson is receiving a full tuition scholarship at Alabama, while Quinn Van Nice said that he will only have to pay about $1,000 to $2,000 in tuition at year to attend Alabama. 

“I wanted to avoid student loans; that was a big thing for me,” Van Nice told the Landmark. “And I know all the other five kids who are going to Alabama, and every single one is getting at least $20,000 a year off, so I think for all of us it’s probably a pretty big reason why we’re going.”

No other school came close to offering the kind of scholarship Alabama offered, Van Nice said.

“It was $15,000 cheaper than going to U of I,” Van Nice said. “My financial aid there was so much higher than anywhere else. Everyone that I know [going to Alabama] are getting big scholarships.” 

Van Nice first started thinking of going to Alabama the summer before eighth grade when he learned of someone getting a generous financial aid package to attend Alabama. As a freshman at RBHS, Van Nice mentioned this to his best friend, Owen Marrs, and they decided that they would go to Alabama together. 

Van Nice and Marrs will room together as freshmen as will Watson and Jackson Fields, another RBHS student heading to Alabama this year.

Marrs was so set on Alabama that he applied to no other schools.

“Alabama offers generous scholarships, has warm weather, and has one of the nation’s best football teams,” Marrs said in a text message to the Landmark explaining why he decided to go to Alabama. “Another reason is that I knew they would be less restrictive when it comes to COVID than many northern and west coast schools.”

All six members of the RBHS Class of 2021 who will be going to Alabama — Watson, Van Nice, Marrs, Alex Barrido, Catherine Glawe, and Jackson Fields — were admitted to Alabama’s Honors College.

Elliot Royer, who graduated from RBHS in 2019, and Marlena Barrido, the sister of Alex Barrido, put Alabama on the map for RBHS students. 

For the last decade more and more, Illinois students have been heading down to Tuscaloosa. Last year 1,535 undergraduates at the University of Alabama were from Illinois. Only Alabama itself and Georgia sent more undergraduates to the University of Alabama. Only 39.7 percent of students at the University of Alabama are from Alabama, and the university has found suburban Chicago to be a good source of academically strong students as it seeks to boost its academic profile. The University of Alabama is ranked tied for 143rd among national universities by the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings.

To get the kind of generous scholarships the RBHS students are receiving, you need good grades — at least a 3.5 GPA — and high test scores. Marrs got a 1430 combined score on his SAT while Van Nice scored 1420. Watson had a 32 composite ACT score.

Schools in the south seemed particularly attractive to many members of the RBHS Class of 2021. Other graduates are heading to Georgia Tech, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, University of Georgia, University of Florida, University of Tampa and Vanderbilt.

“There’s a general sentiment in our class, like, I kind of want to get out of Illinois,” Van Nice said.