My Thoughts on the College Application Process


Sophie Divino

Ever since I was a freshman, the looming college application process has always seemed extremely daunting to me. I saw my sister go through it, and while I didn’t know much about it, I knew that both her and my parents were stressed. College seemed to dominate many family meals, and I remember I saw my sister less and less as she huddled in her room to complete her applications.

Thus, I dreaded junior year for many reasons. Firstly, I knew that it was the year that all of my grades would be submitted to colleges. Secondly, junior meant many hours of studying for the SAT and doing everything in my power not to get a pit in my stomach when someone mentioned the test. And finally, I knew that as well as researching colleges, that summer I would be beginning to apply to them. It seemed like an endless year of stress and anxiety.
Now, being halfway done with my senior year, I can confirm that my fears were partially true. Yes, junior year was bad. I think anyone who is an honest person would say that. But, I think that my previous perception of the college application process was worse than it actually was.

I decided to begin my college applications as soon as they opened- August 1st. Prior to August 1st, I filled out the “personal information” on the Common App, since I knew that this information would be saved when the portal reset on August 1st. While the “personal information” took up some of my time, it was in no way as draining as I thought it would be. I like to classify tedious but easy assignments as “I can listen to my music as I complete this.” This was definitely a “I can listen to my music as I complete this” assignment. They were just general questions about my parents and my school that required no creativity in their answers. I kind of liked it. I was being productive, yet I was answering these questions while lounging by the pool or even while at the beach.

The next part of the Common App was listing five academic honors, and 10 extracurricular activities. I also completed this prior to August 1st. Although this required a little more brain power than the last assignment, it was very easy for me because I had already created a student resume for myself about a year ago. I would highly recommend doing this. It’s easier to create it if you start early, and continue to add more notable activities/achievements later on as they occur. I even knew that the Common App was only going to allow 100 characters of description per each activity, so throughout my junior year I found little pockets of time to make my descriptions clear and concise. Then, when it came time to actually insert my activities into the Common App, all I had to do was copy and paste. I could definitely say that starting earlier gave me an advantage.

Thus, by the time August 1st rolled around, I knew that I was in good shape. Nevertheless, I was dreading the next step of the process more than anything else. I did not want to write essays. Out of any assignment that I had in school, writing essays was my least favorite. Because I applied to 12 colleges, I had to write 24 essays. One or two schools may have not had any, but some had three or four. But, before the panic sets in, know that most of the essays were only 250 words- far less than a typical essay written for English class. There were also the “optional essays,” but I knew that if I wanted to submit my applications knowing I did everything I possibly could, I knew that “optional” meant “mandatory.” Even before August 1st I knew the ballpark of how many essays I would have to write, so thankfully I wasn’t shocked once I counted them for myself. The first day the applications opened, I just decided to read through all of the prompts. I made a google doc that listed all of the prompts for each school, and I spent that day jotting down ideas for each prompt. Already I felt much better knowing that I had ideas in my brain.

The prompts for the schools fall in one of two categories: “Tell me about yourself” or “Why this school?”. I quickly realized that the “why this school” prompts were the worst of the two, because they required a lot of research on the school. I knew that it was important not to talk generally about the schools by saying that they had “a pretty campus” or “great sports” or “impressive academics.” I researched specific professor names of classes that interested me, and I made sure to identify a specific program/path offered and highlight how it coincided with my interests. Once the research was done, writing the essay was very simple. After I wrote my first two essays, I realized I could use the same general format for each one.

The “tell me about yourself” essays I came to adore. The prompts are not actually “tell me about yourself,” but I don’t know how else to categorize prompts that are personal and creative. I realized that the schools made many of the prompts interesting because just like how applicants don’t want to write a boring essay, the admissions representatives don’t want to read a boring essay. Some of my favorite prompts included,“What is your favorite word and why?” “Who is your favorite conversation partner and why?” and “What would you paint on the (school’s) bridge and why?” One prompt even asked me to just list my “Top 10 List,” leaving the subject of the top 10 list completely limitless. Writing these essays allowed me to explore my identity more, and even instilled some pride within myself when I crafted an essay that I really loved.

I become good at switching my mindset into a positive one, and breaking up each part of the essay into something I could consider enjoyable. When I had to research, although it was my least favorite part, it was a “I could probably listen to music while I do this” assignment. I thought it was intriguing to discover each school’s positive attributes and envision myself there. Then, as I mentioned, crafting the “why this school essay” became easier and easier as I completed each one, and the “tell me about yourself” essays were the most entertaining essays I’ve ever had to write.
While I would still rather be frolicking in the sun or watching tv than filling out my applications, I created a great system for myself. For the entire month of August, I wrote about an essay a day. It was devotion, and at times difficult to motivate myself, but I knew that I was advancing my future. Even better, I was chipping away at a process that I was scared of for years. The month of August was not terrible. It was just a new lifestyle I adapted to. I knew it was temporary, and I just needed to keep chugging along until it was all done. By September 8th, I was almost ready to hit submit.

Thus, if you are about to begin your college applications, do not be intimidated. You’ll find a system that works for you and you’ll get used to it. Maybe you temporarily won’t be able to watch the same amount of tv that you used to or won’t be able to hang out with your friends as often as you did, but it will all be over soon. I highly recommend starting your applications in June/July and filling out the school-specific essays and questions throughout August. This way, by the time your senior year starts, you can take a big deep breath and fully enjoy your last year.