While many of you may be celebrating the Independence Day weekend around now, the month of July is of note to many younger people for a different reason. This is the time when many rising high school seniors begin thinking about applying to college. Some may have visited campuses last spring, and many have gotten advice from family, teachers, and older friends. The college application process can be an exciting step in the lives of many high school graduates, but this excitement does not come without its stresses. This post is my first of three focusing on the college application process.
Applying to college is a challenge not only in its academic requirements, but also in its bureaucratic complexity. There number of moving parts involved in submitting all the application materials, attending interviews, and being awarded acceptance are almost too many to count. For many high school students—who do not yet have full time jobs, leases, or mortgages—this is also the first big bureaucratic milestone of their lives. It may be cynical to think of milestones in terms of bureaucracy, but sadly many of the best things in life come with a lot of paperwork. Furthermore, not only is applying to college complicated, but it is a lot more complicated than it used to be not too long ago. Before the internet or computers, technological limitations prevented the necessary documentation from reaching such critical mass.
Older graduates—especially college-educated parents of current applicants—often do not realize how much there is to do; in their day, there were few enough standardized exams to fit on one sheet of paper. While the advent of online applications may appear to have reduced physical paperwork, in truth the increase in application requirements by schools more than makes up for it. Besides primary materials submitted online, there are also supplemental applications specific to each school and hardcopies of teacher recommendations, all of which have to be printed out anyway and mailed to each school applied to.
To parents and rising seniors, all the headaches of applying can be avoided if one understands the process in advance. We’ll start with the Common Application, often referred to as the “common app.” This is a website designed to host the main application components for all American colleges that have agreed to participate, which is just about all of them. Each applicant creates an account and then inputs necessary information into the presented boxes. This includes everything from identifying information—name, address, social security number, etc.—to high school grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities. This main application also asks for an essay of 650 words or less, responding to a presented prompt or written on a topic of choice. One then selects which schools one wishes to apply to and is given access to supplemental materials, more specific questions regarding high school activities and additional shorter essay specific to each college, ie “What do you like about our school?” and “What will you contribute to our campus community?”
With that, I wish you all a good long weekend. Watch some fireworks and barbeque! I’ll be back next week discussing the hurdles that the common app comes with and some of the paperwork applicants need to obtain from their high school offices and teachers.