They've both got combined College Board scores of nearly 1,400 out of a possible 1,600. Their grade-point averages after four years of high school actually exceed the "perfect" 4.0 because of credit received for the college-level courses they've already taken.
They're in the cream of Prince George's County's senior class crop and between them had their pick of Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Stanford and the University of Virginia.
They are also good friends, although when they get to arguing about the merits of the Ivy League versus the "University of Ralph," they have a parting of the ways. David Dodge wants the Ivy. Cheryl Mills wants the Wahoos.
"Why do you want to go?" Mills demanded.
"It's the prestige, the contacts you can make," he replied.
"Think of all that money," retorted Mills, 18, who wants to be a lawyer. "You know that you can get as good an education for half the cost."
Dodge, 17, who wants to major in science, conceded her point.
Sunday was deadline for most high school seniors all over America to tell colleges of their intent to enroll. But the debate over what schools to attend has gone on between the two Eleanor Roosevelt High School students for about two years.
Mills and Dodge are among the 8,000 students who will graduate from Prince George's County public schools next month. About 45 percent will go on to college. But among the graduates of Greenbelt's Eleanor Roosevelt, which emphasizes science and technical courses and whose students are chosen by competitive exam, 85 percent are expected to continue their education.
Of the 520 Roosevelt graduates this year, about 50 have been admitted to "some pretty selective places," such as Ivy League schools, guidance counselor Carol Gray said.
As the deadline neared last week, financial reality and the animated Mills were winning Dodge over to the University of Virginia.
The Bowie resident said his parents cannot afford the nearly $15,000 in annual fees for Dartmouth or any of the Ivy League schools. Tuition and board for out-of-state residents at Virginia is about $7,000.
Mills, a resident of Oxon Hill, said that while her family probably could swing the cost of an Ivy League school, she is only interested in Charlottesville. Her parents qualify as state residents--they were born in Virginia and as a military couple can claim it as their legal residence--and that entitles her to in-state tuition. She has also won a scholarship from the Gillette Co., so her annual tuition cost is only $2,500.
Down to the wire, Dodge was still fighting to go elsewhere, however. He wrote letters to financial-aid officers asking them to reconsider, and he followed up each letter with a phone call.
His family's annual income of $50,000 was too much qualify him for scholarships: most schools offered only combinations of loans and jobs. His parents would have to borrow about $9,000 a year for four years under most aid packages, he said.
Last week, Dodge went to the Dartmouth reception, the last of several where college alumni groups courted potential freshmen over wine and cookies.
At Washington's St. Alban's Preparatory School, Dartmouth "old greens" in sober suits chatted with about two dozen accepted candidates and their parents. Antique rugs, tapestries on the wall, fluted ironwork on the oriel windows and a great stone hearth made for an Ivy League atmosphere, Dodge observed.
Dodge's decision has become increasingly common in the past few years, said John D. Sharer, district enrollment director for the Dartmouth Club of Washington. Skyrocketing costs at private colleges, such as Dartmouth, have made more and more middle-class students question the worth of the investment, he acknowledged.
Sharer said many of those students in the area have been turning to the University of Virginia, considered an outstanding state school with the advantage of state-subsidized tuition.
Mills, the daughter of an Army lieutenant colonel, grew up in Germany and Belgium, where she learned to ski, to speak French and to fend for herself in a foreign culture.
Back in the United States since 1979, Mills said she has no idea why some people look up to the older schools of the Northeast and down on those in the South. About 100 of the University of Virginia's 1,165 black students staged a sit-in and march last week to emphasize their demands for increased black enrollment; it has been an annual demonstration there in recent years. With a minority enrollment of only 6.8 percent, the school this year is under increased pressure as well from the governor's office and from federal courts to admit more black students.
But as a young black woman who has lived in predominantly white communities and who has a number of white friends, problems of integration at Virginia are just history to Mills.
"Isn't it supposed to be changing?" she asked. "It's never going to change if you just avoid it. It's just running away from the situation."
There are other lures to Charlottesville: Ralph Sampson, her idol, went there, Mills acknowledged. It was media attention on the 7-foot-4-inch center that first brought the school to her attention and, true to form, she never lost sight of it.
Virginia will offer a better mix of students, without all the "elitists" she might have found at Harvard, Mills said. She promised she would keep an eye on David there, to get him into the swing of things.
Mills mailed her $250 room deposit last Friday. But on deadline day, Dartmouth informed Dodge it had found just enough scholarship money to enable him to enroll. Mills said she was happy for him, but said, "I'm gonna miss him. I'm very sad. . . . I thought he'd be there."