Freeport High School, FHS, senior, Justin Budhu, 17, wants to follow in his parents’ footsteps and study business and finance in college. Halfway through his senior year, he’s in the brunt of the college application process. A process he said has been overwhelming, but he’s got it “under control.”
Justin is just one of the 444 FHS seniors preparing for college. While not all students go to a four-year university and some opt for a two-year college, trade school or the military, Justin is determined to forge a path into a good college.
November is usually when the college application process in high gear. It’s a time when students, Davin Sweeney, the director of Collegewise, a college counseling organization for admissions counseling said, are not only working on their applications but a time in which students are finding the right option for them so that they can position themselves for the next four years and after that too.
By December, Sweeney said students should be close to wrapping up and submitting their applications to make the January admissions deadlines. FHS’s director of guidance, Emma Perdomo said that all seniors are encouraged to apply to at least one college.
Sweeney also said applying to at least eight to ten schools also provides students with more options at the end of the senior. Both counselors agreed that students should apply to diverse collection of schools that includes a safe school, one that a student will definitely get into, a target school, a school that identifies with the student’s grade point average or studies of interest or a reach school, a school with a higher competitive admissions process and requirements.
“The student has to set a schedule to get through the applications,” Sweeney said. “There is a lot of pressure and the application process is overwhelming.”
While waiting until now is a bit last minute, Perdomo said, “It’s not too late to jump into the process.”
“We’ve encouraged everyone to apply before Christmas break,” Perdomo said. “Deadlines depend on the school, students will have to look at the deadlines.”
FHS Principal Joseph Mille said though the application process may be daunting particularly for First Generation College students, the school offers support beyond the classroom to students and families. In September, the school held a Senior Parent Night to break down the college application process. On Dec. 3, a Nassau Community College representative visited FHS to meet with one on one with students. Later that day, the school held a Parents University, which was also open to juniors as a continued conversation about college with the parents.
“We provide the most support for our students,” Mille said. “Through our programs and our family oriented environment, we want to help our students prepare for [college] and everyday life.”
A single application includes school transcripts and ACT/SAT scores, admissions essays and letters of recommendation. When applying to more than one school, it may mean writing several essays and spending time on the application itself.
“The college essay is perhaps the most challenging part of the application,” Sweeney said.
Justin has dedicated approximately two hours a day close to 15 hours a week on his college applications to all of the Ivy League universities — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College. In total, he plans to apply to at least 10 colleges including University of Connecticut, New York University, Villanova, St. John’s and Hofstra universities.
“I think I can get into all the schools I applied to,” Justin said confidently.
The entire Budhu family has also been preparing to submit applications. His parents, Joanna and John, have ensured they’re ready to cover the application and test fees and eventually, once accepted, tuition. While Justin’s worked on the applications, Joanna and John have been supportive through the entire process.
“Start the process as early as you can. We started as early as freshman year, but we started since before he was in high school,” Joanna, Justin’s mother, said.
The way John sees it, his son has excelled academically and it’s his responsibility as his father to see he continues to do so without breaking the bank while in college.
“My main goal is to get him out of college with the least amount of loans as possible,” John said. “We’re combining our college savings, scholarships and financial aid. He’s just not going to get a Bachelor’s he wants to get a Ph.D. “
The Budhus have also spent a tremendous amount of time visiting colleges. Recently, the family took a campus visit through St. John’s University, John’s alma mater.
“I was so proud to walk campus with my student,” John said with a smile. “He has so much talent and works so hard. I want him to get into the top schools in the country and it is difficult, but he can do it.”
Joanna said while it is easy to panic amid the applications and meeting deadlines, she has worked alongside Justin by setting personal deadlines and offering to review the applications before they’re submitted.
“Stay involved with your kids,” Joanna said. “Don’t think they ‘re going to just do it. As parents we have to show some interest, you’ll be surprised how much your child will need help and guidance. Ask questions even if you’re a little annoying.”
“Parents shouldn’t do the applications or write the essays for the student,” Perdomo said. “Just be supportive.”
At FHS, guidance counselors meet with students regularly to help create college goals and a plan of action to meet deadlines. This semester alone, the school held a Senior Parent Night in September and a Parent University on Dec. 3. The objective of the workshops is to educate parents on college requirements, applications and financial aid. Also on Dec. 3, a representative of Nassau Community College visited the school to meet one-on-one with students considering the two-year college route.
“Take advantage of the resources your school has to offer,” Sweeney said. “There is a lot of information and resources at schools and with organizations like ours. Students just need to ask.”
Justin admits, before he started applying to college he was talking to everyone he could about his plans. “The best thing is to stay calm,” he said in regards to the applications. “It’s always good to talk to as many people as you can about this. I talked to my teachers and even the school security guards. I built a relationship with teachers and recognize that at this point in life guidance is necessary.”
Justin is ranked number four in FHS’s class of 2020 and recently received a letter from Assemblywoman Judy Griffin congratulating him for his academic success. When he’s not hitting the books he’s running track as a short distance sprinter in the 55m/100m/200m races. He’s an accomplished Junior Olympian who participated in the National competition in Iowa in 2018. He’s involved in student government, in the National Honor Society and member of many clubs like the Young Men’s Empowerment, Mathletes, Athletic Leadership Club and a peer tutor.
He spends time volunteering with the Elija Foundation, an autism organization and tutoring/mentoring third and fourth graders at Leo F. Giblyn School. In his personal time, Justin launched a YouTube channel for fun.
“My channel is just an outlet to express myself and not be so serious all the time,” he said with a laugh.
He was on the FHS Marching Band for a brief period as a trumpet player but dropped out to focus on his AP courses. From time to time he still picks up the trumpet, but he’s hyper-focused on getting into college, Joanna, his mother, said.
“It’s still an emotional chapter even if he stays close to home,” Joanna said. “We just want him to be happy.”
“I know he wants to make it big because he wants to give back to Freeport,” John said.