Whiz kid said no to $480G in Ivy aid

4 Jun 2013 | New York Daily News | DENIS HAMILL


Sal Cocchiaro knows numbers.

He just graduated as valedictorian of St. Francis Prep with a 100.7 average and won $480,000 worth of scholarships from seven Ivy League-caliber colleges. But this middle-class Bayside, Queens, kid chose a full four-year ride at Fordham University — just 30 minutes from home and family.

So how did the 17-year-old wind up with a 100-plus average?

“I took some advanced-placement college-level courses at (St. Francis) Prep, which gives you extra honors points,” says Sal, who has made the principal’s list every year since first grade. The secret? “My parents made my older brother — a Queens College journalism major — and I stay in and study during the week and be regular kids on the weekends,” he says. “God gave me a gift of learning without having to work too hard the way some people are naturally good-looking or athletically blessed. But I believe you get out of school what you put into it.”

When he graduated from Sacred Heart elementary school in Bayside, he was accepted into prestigious Regis High, Archbishop Molloy, Holy Cross and Brooklyn Tech.

“Everyone told me to go to Regis,” he says. “But those decisions are based just on an educational aspect of school. I chose to take a full scholarship to Prep because when I walked in I just felt comfortable, at home. I can only study, learn and excel if I’m comfortable. I need to be the one to lock myself down rather than have others impose it. And I wanted a school with girls.”

As a kid he tried baseball, basketball and other sports but quickly gave them up because he wasn’t very good.

“But I became a fanatical Mets, Knicks and Jets fan,” Sal says. “I might not be able to tell you how good a player is by watching him. But give me a stack of raw data and I can tell you who to play and when. I’m reading ‘Moneyball’ right now. And my career goal in life is sports management.”

He says going to St. Francis Prep was the best decision he’s ever made.

“I had great teachers, a lot of friends, and met my girlfriend, Annamaria Pilato, in an AP bio class,” he says. “We didn’t like each other at first. I thought she was stuckup. She thought I was weird. We got past that, ended up going out, and at graduation we wound up on stage together because we came in first and second in science. It was cool. She’s going to St. John’s, I’ll be at Fordham.”

Why pick Fordham over other top colleges offering scholarships such as NYU, Harvard, Princeton, Vassar, Dartmouth, Georgetown and Cornell?

“I spoke to a former St. Francis Prep student named John Ketcham who’d chosen Fordham over Ivy League schools four years ago,” says Sal. “This year he was valedictorian at Fordham while I was valedictorian at Prep.”

Ketcham told him that people were going to tell him he was making a major mistake he’d live to regret by choosing Fordham over other schools. He has no regrets.

“John said that college like high school is what you make of it,” says Sal. “It came down to being comfortable. I was amazed by Princeton after my first visit. But I liked it less and less on my second and third visits. The parents were all rich. The kids were pompous. I felt inadequate.”

He liked Fordham more with each visit.

“Down-to-Earth students,” he says. “Great business honors program with 20 students per semester. Continue my religious education. Close to home and the family aspect of my life, which is very important to me. Again, Fordham, like St. Francis Prep, made me feel comfortable, a place to excel.”

For the past year, Sal has enjoyed a “dream job” as a FanFest worker in the batting cages and kiddie rides at Citi Field.

“I watch Mets games, including the awesome Subway Series, as I make kids happy and get paid for it,” he says. “I told my boss that someday I want to be a general manager in the Mets organization. I asked if it was possible without an Ivy League degree. He said yes, but I’d have to work really hard to stand out.”
For a kid with a 100.7 high school average and a half-mil in scholarships and a full ride to Fordham, work ethic doesn’t seem to be a problem for Sal Cocchiaro, a kid from Queens who knows numbers.