Austin, Andrew and AJ Gallagher have marked many milestones together.
There were the early years as they excelled in elementary and middle school.
There was the time they applied for a job at Pizza Hut as a unit and got the job.
And there were the days they spent in high school, sharing classes and a car.
Soon the three will share another important milestone: graduating from Wayne High School, all three in the top 10 of their class.
Andrew, Austin and AJ are valedictorian, salutatorian and No. 10 in the Class of 2014, respectively.
Over the years, the triplets have stuck together through thick and thin, so when it came time to select a college, there was no doubt they'd be going together.
“We all kind of made the decision that we wanted to go together, and we knew we wanted to go to Purdue,” said Austin Gallagher, who plans to study computer engineering.
The brothers are in good company, as more than 75 percent of Allen County's top students plan to remain in Indiana for college in the fall, with the largest number planning to attend Purdue University, according to a survey conducted by The Journal Gazette.
Purdue was also a good match for Andrew's love of exploratory sciences and fit into AJ's plan to study graphic design.
Plus, AJ explained, it's not too far from home.
“That was something that was important. We didn't want to be too far away from home, even if we are together,” he said.
For the past 11 years, The Journal Gazette has asked high schools in Allen County where their top 10 graduates will be headed in the fall. This year, nearly all of the 161 students surveyed will be headed to a college or university next year, although three were undecided as to where.
Staying in Indiana
This is the second consecutive year Purdue University has been selected by the largest number of students surveyed.
In 2012, Indiana University led the list with 29 to Purdue's 27. The year prior, the results were switched – Purdue with 29 and Indiana with 27.
The universities have traditionally competed for first place.
When it came down to deciding which college to attend, Canterbury School senior Angela Collins said there were two main factors: Finding a college that offered the classes she needed for a career in biomedical engineering – and affording those classes.
“To be honest, I was never considering Purdue very highly,” Collins said.
“But my counselor at Canterbury encouraged me to apply to Indiana (University) or Purdue, and I went ahead and did both.”
Collins later learned that she'd been named a Beering Scholar, earning one of Purdue University's most elite scholarships.
The Steven C. Beering Scholarship, named after the university's former president, is a full-ride scholarship that covers all undergraduate and graduate expenses, including a semester abroad.
“I was just so blessed to hear that I'd won that,” Collins said. “So when it came down to it, money made the difference, and Purdue is a great school for engineering.”
Carroll High School senior Abby Lemert was also selected as a Beering Scholar. Lemert will graduate today as valedictorian of her class.
But for 19 other top students, Indiana University was the school of choice.
Heritage Junior-Senior High School's valedictorian, Kayla Copper, is among them.
As she was looking for college, Copper said she focused on in-state schools.
“My sister really wanted me to get outside of Fort Wayne and experience the on-campus stuff,” Copper said. “Plus, I wanted to study biochemistry.”
Proximity to home
But for other students, a state school is a bit too far away.
“I looked at IU, Ball State, IPFW, all of those,” said Heritage senior Logan Heimann. “I like the idea of a college experience, but I also liked the idea of staying at home.”
Heimann chose the University of Saint Francis to pursue his degree in nursing.
Both the University of Saint Francis and Huntington University saw an increase in the number of top students with plans to attend those schools, according to survey results.
In recent years, one or no top 10 student has chosen to attend Huntington University.
But this year, three students responded that they will attend Huntington in the fall.
“Huntington University continues to have a strong recruiting presence in northeast Indiana, specifically Allen County,” said Nate Perry, director of undergraduate admissions at Huntington University.
In the past few years, Allen County students have represented 11.8 percent of the incoming class from all Indiana counties, Huntington University officials said.
“To date, indicators point to a potential increase for the 2014 incoming class,” Perry said. “Just less than 14 percent of our current registered students from Indiana reside in Allen County.”
Five top 10 students said they plan to attend the University of Saint Francis next school year, up from three or four in recent years.
JP Spagnolo, associate vice president of enrollment management at the university, said high-quality academics and an increase in merit awards are likely contributing to the increased number of incoming top 10 students.
“Our academic profile shows that we have an improving academic profile and are pulling in more of those top students,” Spagnolo said.
Heimann said the tight-knit community of the University of Saint Francis is exactly what he was looking for in a school – and is one of the major reasons why he chose it.
“I'm really looking forward to it,” he said. “I'm excited about meeting new people, new faces and getting new opportunities to expand my horizons and my knowledge.”