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College application hindsight

College is a time of big changes, growth and challenges for young people and their families. The application process to get there can be just as challenging as college itself.

Current college freshmen and parents have plenty to say about what they’re glad they did — or wish they’d done differently — when it came to college applications.

The Common App is your friend

Rob Fashano, a freshman at SUNY (State University of New York) Fredonia, grew up in Orchard Park and said he wishes he’d been more careful about where he applied. Instead of paying between $50 and $200 per application to schools, he advises incoming freshmen to use the online Common Application, or Common App, as it’s called.

“You should start honing in your choices before you do any sort of application and not be ‘loosey goosey’ like I was,” Fashano added. “I was probably $300 in the hole by the end of the application process and I ended up going to the school that cost the least amount of money to apply to. It’s a waste of money at the end of the day to spend $150 per app just to get a letter in the mail saying I didn’t get into that school.”

Sometimes, however, the application fee can be waived simply by asking.

Mary Anstett of East Aurora is currently going through the college application process for the third time with her youngest child, a senior in high school.

“With all three kids, we’ve done extensive looking at colleges and several applications,” Anstett said. “If you go to see a college, you have to ask if they’ll give you an application fee waiver. I definitely would suggest that, especially if you’re visiting. They want you, and usually they can try to find a way to get that waived.”

Nearly 800 colleges and universities use The Common Application. Annemarie Cervoni, counselor at Orchard Park High School, said most kids are using it these days.

“It’s been a game changer,” Cervoni said. “Kids only have to do one application and more kids have started to do it as more schools accept it. It’s been fantastic.”

Alec Kyriakopoulos of Buffalo is currently a freshman at Kent State University and says if he could go back in time, he would’ve utilized it more.

“I wish I would have applied to more Common App schools,” he said. “It’s a really good tool. It takes a long time to get it set up, but once it’s up, it’s easy to add schools. I took an AP English class in my senior year of high school, and for about half of the year we focused on getting our Common Apps ready and working on our essays. If they didn’t do that, I would’ve been even more lost.”

Essays, recommendations are important, too

Fashano said he needn’t have stressed so much about the specifics of his transcript. He initially believed he needed every single one of his class grades, when it turned out all he needed for the Common App were his AP class grades, his standardized test scores and his junior and senior year GPAs.

However, he is happy with his choice to procure meaningful teacher recommendations.

“I’m glad I cared a lot about teacher recommendations,” he said. “Those ended up getting me into very prestigious schools.” Don’t pick the teacher you brown-nose. Pick the teacher you have a good relationship with.”

Kayla Horisk is from downstate New York but currently attends the University at Buffalo. She, like Fashano, thinks elements like teacher recommendations and essays are a good way of showing a school the kind of student and person you are.

“The essay is the most important part because it really shows who you are,” Horisk said. “You have an opportunity to present who you are, so take full advantage of that. I don’t think I could’ve got into school without it.”

Utilize your high school’s counselor, resources

When it came down to actually filling out the application, Fashano said he was able to do that mostly with help from his school counselors.

“My school made the process easier,” he said. “Give them a ton of credit for that. It’s extremely stressful and your entire future is riding on that application. I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own if I didn’t have the assistance of a guidance counselor. It made it super easy. They’re not only telling you what to do, they’re giving you solid advice about what the application process is going to be like.”

Cervoni said the role of a high school counselor has evolved in recent years.

“A major part of my job is college admission,” she said. “We tell students exactly what to expect every step of the way. We don’t help them fill out the application, but we help them get prepared to answer any questions.”

Another resource for college-bound students is the National College Fair that takes place March 21 and 22 this year at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Be prepared, organized and start early

When it’s time to actually fill out the application, some advice is universally shared — organization and preparedness will help you immensely, as will getting an early start.

“It’s a very confusing process,” Anstett said. “There’s the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and there’s a separate one called the CSS Profile. It’s the same information, but you have to re-enter the information. You can always update your FAFSA, but once you submit the CSS Profile, you can’t change it. It’s not life or death, but you should be aware once you submit the CSS profile you can’t manually change it.”

The applications also require two years’ worth of tax information.

“Be sure you have the correct tax year,” Anstett said. “They’re going back two years on FAFSA and CSS, and it’s a lot of paperwork to go through if you have complicated taxes. It’s complicated, but it’s not. There are steps to it, and you can do it in phases. The earlier you begin the process, the better. It’s easier if you stay organized.”

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