Franklin Rinko worked his scholarship applications like a part-time job his senior year at King George High School, earning a ticket to the college of his dreams—and $180,000 in financial awards.

That’s more than 10 times the norm. In recent years, students heading to private universities earned an average of $15,680 in scholarships while those going to state colleges received about $5,750, according to the financial-management website debt.org.

Those who’ve watched Rinko in school aren’t surprised by his latest achievement. “He’s one of a kind,” said Kelley Ross, his literature and language teacher in the Commonwealth Governor’s School.

His counselor, Kellyn Enos, said she could not even “begin to compare Franklin to his classmates because he is in a league of his own.”

Rinko is a straight-A student and class leader, a community activist, DECA champion and Eagle Scout who juggles all his involvements while managing his health. He’s had diabetes since he was 8.

“People sometimes tell me I wear myself too thin, but I love to be involved,” he said.

The 18-year-old had his heart set on attending Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts school in Lexington. Tuition, room and board there costs about $63,000 a year, and that was beyond the budget set by his parents, John and Terri Rinko of Dahlgren. They were looking at a state school, where annual expenses average $25,000.

But the young Rinko, who described himself in one of the dozens of college essays he wrote as “dedicated, driven and hopelessly optimistic,” was not to be deterred. He worked the scholarship network like a politician on the campaign trail, garnering enough aid not just to study finances at W&L, but perhaps to teach a class on it.

Daniel McNamara, his math teacher, wondered when Rinko had time to sleep. His heavy school workload his senior year included five Advanced Placement classes, projects that advanced to the international level of DECA competition and statewide level of public speaking and participation in all three plays the high school produced this year.

“Franklin Rinko is by far, hands down, one of the single greatest students I have ever taught,” McNamara wrote in a recommendation. “He understands that hard work and determination will take him far in life.”

‘VERY DILIGENT’

Franklin Rinko received a W&L merit scholarship worth $34,000 a year. Hefty as that was, it still left about $29,000 a year for the family to pay, which was above the parents’ threshold.

That’s why he threw out a net and gathered information on every scholarship available. He looked at local ones as well as national awards. He marked due dates on his calendar, asked for recommendations from teachers and advisers, the chairman of the King George County Board of Supervisors and the School Board, and had essays at the ready.

For each specific application, he tailored his essays to match the questions asked. He checked in regularly at the school guidance office to see what other offers were out there.

“He was very diligent,” said said Terri Morrison, King George High School’s counseling secretary and scholarship coordinator.

While the amount he received clearly was “over the top,” Morrison said, Rinko was one of several students who searched high and low for financial help.

“On awards night, the students who put in the time and effort, they were the ones who were up onstage a lot,” she said.

Rinko and other members of the King George DECA were in Anaheim, Calif., in late April for the International Career Development Conference. With Thomas Melton and Eric Davis, he had developed a project on financial literacy and shown elementary students how to set up saving accounts and senior citizens how to avoid scams. The project won state and regional awards and was entered in a worldwide competition.

Exciting as that was—and Rinko’s face lights up when he describes the hotel, “which was like a palace”—there was still a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his head. He hadn’t made a college commitment, and the deadline was nearing.

Christopher Newport University and Roanoke College made offers that were close to full rides, and Rinko was prepared to pick Roanoke if he didn’t get enough financing for W&L. He’d filled out the paperwork for Roanoke and left it at home with his father.

The day before the deadline to apply for W&L, he got a call that changed his life.

“I was losing my mind in the hotel lobby,” Rinko said, when he checked his phone messages.

‘HIS DREAM SCHOOL’

Rinko learned he had earned the Fary Memorial Scholarship Fund. Based in Tappahannock, it’s a $6,000 award—renewable each year for four years—for students from rural areas. It’s given in honor of T. Franklin Fary, a self-made multimillionaire who lived in King and Queen County and earned his money through astute investments in real estate and the stock market.

With the W&L money and the Fary fund, Rinko had enough to meet his parents’ criteria. From California, he sent in his deposit to W&L and sealed the deal.

When King George’s awards night rolled around, Rinko received another 18 scholarships from community and civic groups. They ranged from $500 to $5,000 each and totaled about $20,000.

Rinko’s logical father, who works at the Navy base in Dahlgren, calculated that he and his wife saved 71 percent on the W&L price tag, thanks to the scholarships. But he also added that the Rinkos could have done even better, had their son accepted a different offer.

His mother, a former school teacher and current Mary Kay skin care consultant, puts things in a different perspective.

“I know he would have done well at any of the schools where he was accepted,” said his mother, “but we’re thrilled that he’s able to go to his dream school.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425 cdyson@freelancestar.com

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