Aspen seniors await word from colleges |

Aspen seniors await word from colleges

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen High School senior Olivia Fanizza, with her mom, Ruth Minetree, will attend the University of Chicago in the fall. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” While most seniors at Aspen High School won’t hear about college acceptance for several months, a portion of them already have learned whether they’ve been accepted by their first-choice schools.

And some of those already are making plans about critical issues such as which dormitories they’ll be living in and the type of financial aid they can expect.

“Basically, I’m done,” said senior Olivia Fanizza, who will be attending the University of Chicago next fall.

She said she plans to major in “the philosophy, social studies and humanities of science and medicine.” In tackling such a broad array of subject areas, she hopes to give herself a little time before settling down into one field.

Although she initially had applied to several schools, Fanizza said, a trip to Chicago in the spring of her junior year gave her all she needed to know.

“I fell in love with the first school I saw,” she recalled, explaining that the beautiful campus, coupled with its location in Chicago ” where she has family and friends ” made her decision easy.

So she applied early to Chicago and prepared applications to other schools just in case her first choice didn’t work out.

But it did.

“When I got in [to the University of Chicago], I threw out all my other applications,” she said.

Fanizza is one of 62 AHS students who were accepted through the “early decision” or “early action” methods of college application, in which AHS 71 seniors applied last fall instead of following the regular applications schedule that began in early January.

The “early decision” label means if a student is accepted, it is equivalent to a signed agreement to attend that school. For those with “early action” acceptance, it is not set in stone, and they still can apply to other schools if they wish.

Five of those early applications were “deferred,” meaning the student must reapply as part of the regular applications pool, and four were rejected by the college in question.

Those who applied early and were accepted at their first-choice schools can point to the walls lining a staircase in the school’s central cafeteria and commons area, where their names and their schools are displayed on bright yellow placards.

For the 129 students in the class of ’09, according to college counselors Kathy Klug and Susan Walter, about 700 college-application packets will have been sent out. Nationally, according to Walter, about 68 percent of high school graduates move on to college. In Aspen, that number is more like 90 percent or better.

The college application is the culmination of a complicated and intense process that typically begins when the students are sophomores and begin to meet with Klug and her staff, winnowing their way through a list of some 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.

Noting that the process can approach “frenzy” proportions every year, Walter said, “We try to calm the frenzy. … We stress ‘fit and match.'” That means Klug and her staff urge students to look beyond the top-tier schools ” Ivy League and other famous kinds of schools ” to find equally excellent institutions that might be a better fit and might be easier to get into.

“Lesser known,” said Klug, “that does not mean not as good,” noting that she and Walter go on several college trips every year to familiarize themselves with a broad range of schools, and that because AHS is a small school, they find it easy to match a college of a university to a certain student.

But for Fanizza and her mom, Ruth Minetree, the whole process provided a framework of support that, while not essential to their effort, was very helpful.

For example, the University of Chicago does not send reps to the annual college fair at AHS, so Fanizza was not able to chat with the admissions reps, which normally is viewed as a highly important step in the process.

But, Fanizza said, Klug is “definitely the woman that you go to get the ball rolling,” and she credited Klug and Walter with the critical aid of getting her college application packet all together in one envelope by the deadline ” an accomplishment she isn’t sure she could have managed on her own.

Plus, Klug and Walter got to know the admissions reps at Chicago and were able to smooth the way somewhat once Fanizza began the applications process.

Minetree added, “I think it’s kind of reassuring to have everything laid out for you. … It takes a lot of pressure off.” She said one invaluable bit of help came when Klug recommended an ACT testing tutor for Fanizza.

Although she is a straight-A student, Fanizza said she felt like she needed help with the test, and her mom said tutor John Haskell “did a fantastic job for us.”

Minetree also praised Klug and her team for their individualized dealings with the students.

“Each kid is different,” Minetree said, “and she’s very respectful of that,” rather than treating the process as an assembly line or trying to push each student into a predetermined kind of school.

The biggest question remaining for Fanizza and Minetree is financial aid.

Fanizza said the price tag for her freshman year is $50,000, and for each year after that the fee will be $43,000, which Minetree said is not the kind of money she can come up with.

In fact, Minetree is in school herself, studying public health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md. That means mother and daughter will be taking classes simultaneously, though in different locales, during Fanizza’s freshman year.

But financial aid counselors at the University of Chicago, Fanizza explained, already have alerted her about the school’s new “Odyssey Scholarship.” It is an endowment that was created last year, with a $100 million gift from an anonymous alumnus, to help students whose families earn less than $75,000 per year, which is true of Fanizza, whose father died several years ago.

The scholarship program is designed to help students avoid an over reliance on student loans to make it through school, Fanizza said, “so at least I know I won’t be going into debt.”

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