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Visions of colleges, not sugar plums, dance in high school seniors’ heads

BY AMY FLOWERS  UMBLE, The Free Lance-Star

Santa isn’t the only one facing crunch time in December.

While youngsters are ardently crafting wish lists for Christmas morning, high school seniors are even more vigorously constructing applications for their dreams.

Most college application deadlines are looming. For many Virginia schools, early decision deadlines come in November and December, and regular applications are due in early January.

And that means that high school seniors—and their teachers and guidance counselors—are extra busy  in December.

For Greg Feducia, a teacher at Mountain View High School, the college application season could bring 30 more hours of work overall, writing recommendation letters.

“Time is always an issue,” said Feducia, who teaches English and gifted classes. “Writing letters is not a part of my job description, so juggling lesson plans and paper grading and going to meetings can be an issue.”

About 30 students each year ask Feducia to write  letters recommending them to colleges. Feducia writes these letters after school, sometimes while he’s waiting for his regular allergy shots.

And while the letters add to his workload, Feducia said he enjoys writing the missives because it helps him get to know his students better.

“I am often amazed by things I learn about students—struggles they have overcome, personal issues, how they view themselves—that were not noticeable in a classroom setting,” he said.


For high school seniors and guidance counselors, the application is much more streamlined than it used to be, thanks to the Common Application online.

At the Common App website (, students can apply to several schools at once, provided they can pay the application fees. Many schools have an extra essay question, but with the Common App, students have to answer the basic application questions—about their family, grades, work experience and extracurricular activities—only once.

The Common Application helps many guidance counselors, too. Counselors in most area school divisions have to upload transcripts only once instead of sending packets out to each individual college or university.

 That isn’t the case, however, in Stafford County. Because the school division lacks an updated student information system, guidance counselors can’t upload the transcripts into the College App’s online program, said Maggie Jones, director of guidance at Mountain View.

 While the Common App does simplify the process for many students and counselors, the technology comes with its own stresses.

“I was nervous it wasn’t saving or wouldn’t send,” said Harper Lovegrove, a senior at Stafford High School who used Common Application to apply to two colleges. A third, George Mason University, requires a separate application.

And technology doesn’t necessarily mean less work for guidance counselors. Because the online program streamlines the applications, some students apply to more schools than they ordinarily would.

Of course, a website can’t cure  procrastinating teenagers, and counselors and teachers always expect a few last-minute pleas for help.

“You would be surprised that some students think that I only need a day to write a letter for them, and that I can drop whatever I am currently doing,” Feducia said.

And technology will never be a substitute for a personal touch, said Robin Mitchell, director of guidance at King George High School.

That means that those recommendation letters will still require extra effort. Mitchell, like Feducia,  spends at least an hour per recommendation letter.

“I don’t do generic letters, I start from scratch with each one, with a clean piece of paper,” Mitchell said. “You don’t want to just regurgitate information on a transcript. You need to introduce the student to them.”


This time of year is usually especially busy for Mitchell and the other counselors in her office. But they have a little bit of breathing room, thanks to a new program introduced this summer.

Mitchell and her team held their first College Application Boot Camp in August. The sessions, which included essay-writing help, application timelines and templates for requesting recommendation letters, were so popular they had to add an extra day.

Counselors are seeing the benefits of the boot camp as fewer students are waiting until the last minute to ask for letters or transcripts.

Many students are learning that applying earlier means less stress all around.

Fernando De La Rosa is just a junior at King George High School, but he has already started the application process. Fernando wants to attend either West Point or the Naval Academy. Both schools are highly competitive and allow the process to start early, he said.

Harper also started the process early. In August, the Stafford High senior made a list of everything she needed to do and began her Common Application account.

She had applied to all three of her chosen colleges before Thanksgiving.

Many area students will spend the winter break not scrambling to fill out applications, but wondering whether they will get admitted to the schools they’ve applied to. Regular decision applicants hear their results in the spring.

Students who are accepted under early decision should already have their results, which could make for a jolly holiday.

Amy Flowers Umble:   540/735-1973