Nate Sweitzer began drawing when he was 3 years old.
When he arrives at college next year, the Libertyville High School senior plans to consider his early love of illustration and his developing skills in graphic art before picking a major.
With his college choices narrowed to three, his decision making was recently impacted by the combined $184,000 worth of scholarship offers he received from five schools.
Sweitzer was one of 10 seniors from Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills high schools to earn scholarship money at the Feb. 25 Illinois High School Art Exhibition in Chicago.
Chris Sykora, an art teacher at Deerfield High School, is the co-director of the exhibition, which he said is a nonprofit corporation. He said the annual event showcases student art from across the state and gives seniors the opportunity to share their portfolios with colleges with the hope of earning scholarships.
"Colleges and universities make offers based on the student portfolios," Sykora said. "They are really starting to understand our program and it's growing."
A year ago, Sykora said $19 million worth of scholarships were awarded at the exhibit. This year, the number climbed to more than $43 million, he said. Many of the students get multiple offers before selecting one. In 2017, he said approximately 250 students took part and this year it was more than 380.
Narrowing his choices to the Maryland Institute College of Art, the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Sweitzer got offers from two of the schools at the exhibition.
"Getting the scholarship money was pretty cool," Sweitzer said. "It was kind of crazy seeing all those schools offering me scholarships including two of the three I wanted."
Sweitzer said he was surrounded by art from his earliest memories. His father, Randy Sweitzer, teaches art at Grayslake North High School and his mother, Janet Sweitzer, is an interior designer. College will help him decide which direction to take.
"There is really a lot of overlap between illustration and graphic design," Nate Sweitzer said. "I love drawing and it really helps with graphic design."
Ray Gossell, an art teacher at Libertyville, said the exhibition gave Sweitzer and other local students a chance not only to earn scholarships, but also a place to show their art. There were two shows, one for seniors like Sweitzer and another for all high school students.
"It's a great opportunity for the students to show their work in a large exhibition," Gossell said. "It gives a lot of students a chance to see what they can do."
Not every student who won scholarships will be using them next year. Garrett Cohen, a Mundelein High School senior earned scholarships from both the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He said he has opted attend Columbia College in Chicago.
Cohen said he plans to study fashion photography and Columbia has a good program. Meanwhile, he plans to work on his passion, which is more artistic photography.
"There are scenes in Chicago that are just amazing," Cohen said. "I take a picture of something and dress it up until it's unique. I want it to be something no one else has done."
Anya Caples, a Vernon Hills High School senior, is narrowing her college choices as well with scholarship offers from Cincinnati and Milwaukee totaling $136,000.
"It really helps," Caples said of the scholarship offers. "It's pretty exciting."
Caples said she is always drawing finds inspiration from people around her.
"I'll sit at the airport waiting for a flight and do 30-second sketches of people I see," Caples said.
Caples said she plans to become an illustrator or go into industrial design where she would draw pictures needed by businesses.
Other students winning scholarships at Libertyville were Jacob Rudolphi, Maria Thames and Maxwell Chan. Cindy Szabo, Katelyn Culp and Ryan Story joined Cohen as winners at Mundelein, while Zahra Nadeem was the other Vernon Hills student to earn scholarship money.