As I sat starring blankly at my laptop screen, an eclectic mix of experiences in my 17 years of life flashed before my eyes. Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but I really did feel utterly overwhelmed by the open-ended Common Application essay prompts that stared right back at me. This 650-word essay would really be the mother of all essays.
It is no secret that the U.S. college application process is one tough nut to crack. Perhaps the time consuming and at times diabolical task that goes by the name ‘CommonApp’ brings back fond memories in many students’ minds of how they spent countless hours traipsing through it’s territory… But in all seriousness the commonapp is more than just a perfunctory task nagging at students in their senior year; it requires students to ask themselves the great and terrible questions. Questions that force us to look back at our lives, at the highs and the lows, and to determine which are the moments we want college admission officers to see.
The US college application is unique in the way that it is very much a personal journey. An introspective one. U.S. universities, in particular the elite universities, want to know students on a much more intimate level than just numbers and grades and the Common Application is a reflection of these values. As an international student, at times I felt overwrought by the commonapp and to add fuel to the fire, I was the first student to apply to U.S. universities at my high school in New Zealand. My teachers and I often found ourselves lost in the labyrinth of the commonapp.
The differences between applying to a college in the U.S. and in New Zealand or Australia are immense. It took me about 15 minutes each to submit my online application to Auckland University and Melbourne University while it took me several weeks, if not, months to complete my Common App. I needed to select my choice of majors on the Auckland and Melbourne application while I had the luxury of putting down ‘undecided’ on the commonapp. The very fact that in many countries around the world, at a click of a button or a tick of a box, students are required to hastily select their plan of study for the next three or four years with very little flexibility in changing that proposed major at the callow age of seventeen is absurd. At seventeen how does one truly know what they want to be studying? To be identified by a specific concentration can be very daunting for the undecided students like myself. On the other hand, the freedom to explore a wide array of subjects before cementing a more specialised path is far more ideal.
The trademark ‘liberal arts education’ in the U.S. starts long before one sets foot on campus. The application itself gives a teaser of the type of education you will be exploring. Underneath all the demographics, grades, and awards, there lies a human being—a human being that has varied interests and quirks and talents outside the field of academia.
In essence, if a complete stranger were to read through my entire application, they would know me pretty well by the last page. Heck, by the time I submitted my commonapp as the early decision deadline loomed around the corner, I felt I had learned more about myself. As students, we rarely ever stop to examine ourselves as people. For many, the stress of deadlines and exams all while trying to balance a social life and extra-curricula’s leaves very meagre time for self-reflection. Self-reflection is what the personal and supplemental essays force us to dwell on. Self-reflection, I think, is what is needed to move us closer to our dreams and goals.
And if I wasn’t already so set on going to study in the United States, after completing the Common Application I was all the more sure that the U.S. is where I want to be living the four most life changing years in my life thus far. The sole purpose of going to college is not to graduate with flying colours, but rather to foster personal growth and enrichment. That, in my humble opinion can only be achieved by becoming a curious, well-rounded individual. Similar to how the commonapp wanted to know me better than my GPA and SAT score, I long to receive more than a just ‘degree’ from college. An enriching education transcends the classroom just as a holistic application asks you for more than your transcript.