Berthinia Rutledge-Brown remembers the first time she sat in a room full of parents whose children had gone to elite colleges.
“I cried because I realized that there was a chance that my child would get the education he deserves — the one I could not afford to pay for,” she said.
Her son, it turns out, has several options — and they will all be free.
Last week Ms. Rutledge-Brown’s son, Micheal Brown, opened the last of his big envelopes, and put an exclamation point at the end of an impressive streak: Mr. Brown, 17, got into all 20 highly selective colleges he applied to, all of which offered him a full ride through a combination of merit- and financial-based scholarships and grants.
“He actually earned it,” said Ms. Rutledge-Brown, a drug counselor. “I always knew Mike would get into a good school. I always knew he’d get good scholarship support. But I never imagined this.”
It is rare but not unheard-of for a student to to get into all eight Ivy League schools and complete the so-called sweep. Mr. Brown and his friends said they knew of several other students who had gotten into all or nearly all of the elite schools to which they applied.
Still, in an era when colleges seem to want everything from their applicants, going a perfect 20 for 20 stands out. Mr. Brown got into elite private schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern, Stanford and Georgetown — his top picks. He was also admitted to small but highly selective liberal arts schools like Pomona College and large public universities like the University of Michigan.
Mr. Brown, a senior at Lamar High School in Houston, said that in addition to the money pledged by the schools, he was awarded about $260,000 through scholarships he sought outside of the college application process.
What did it take? Mr. Brown had a 4.68 grade point average when he applied to college, an SAT score of 1540 out of 1600 and an ACT score of 34 out of 36. He was on the school debate team, had done internships and was part of school activities like Key Club.
Still, he was initially unsure whether it would be enough to get him into Stanford, a school his mother said he had dreamed of attending for years.
On a Saturday in December, Ms. Rutledge-Brown watched as her son logged on to Stanford’s admissions portal to check for an early decision. He took one look at the screen — and screamed.
Ms. Rutledge-Brown said she was pulling for her son to attend Stanford because it has been his top choice for so long or Harvard because she thinks it would be an even better fit. Wherever he goes, Mr. Brown said he plans to major in political science and hopes to one day become a lawyer, perhaps a public defender.
His academic accomplishments aside, Mr. Brown credited his involvement in guidance programs such as the University of Southern California’s Bovard Scholars program and the Emerge Fellowship.
It was at an orientation for Emerge, surrounded by other parents, that Ms. Rutledge-Brown teared up. She began to realize then what was possible for her son — “possibilities that I never ever considered,” she said.
Possibilities, she said on Saturday, that are “very real now.”