Today, the Common Application for the high school graduating class of 2015 went live. The application, which is used as an all-inclusive tool for applying to colleges and universities across the world, is, in many ways, the bane of one’s senior year. Although not every college uses it, many do, especially in America.
It’s straightforward enough: supply the Common App with enough information that if they wanted to, they could steal your identity, then write a few essays, and click send. Easy enough.
Or so it seems.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I stayed up late on the night that the Common App was released. “Late” was an understatement. I stayed up till 3:00 A.M., frantically trying to get into the system so that I could see what I was up against.
Many of my friends did the same thing. None of us were able to properly log into the interface until one or two days later because of glitches. I walked into work the next morning at 8:00 A.M. exhausted from staying up and feeling defeated.
The Common App itself isn’t difficult; what’s difficult is just everything that it entails.
For some, the questions posed are difficult to answer: maybe because of a lack of information, or maybe because the questions strike an emotional chord. What should one write in the space for parental occupations if one’s parents are unemployed? For people of certain ethnicities, the question of whether to disclose that information can be tricky. Should you disclose your personal/professional affiliation with an LGBTQ related organization if you’re applying to a more conservative school?
Everything that is written down (or not written down) can have an effect on the colleges that accept you, which means that your entire future is riding on how well you can showcase yourself in a few pages.
Not only can the questions you answer be difficult, but the act of writing essay after essay can be as well.
I didn’t apply to smaller state schools or local private schools. I applied to mostly highly selective out-of-state institutions, many of which had three to five additional essay prompts. I applied to 15 schools; you can do the math.
The glitches that prevented me from logging into the Common App on its first night live didn’t go away. These problems continued up until my very last application. Essays were lost in formatting as I copied and pasted them into the online interface, and, on a few occasions, the Common App website would crash as I tried to submit my applications. Additionally, transcripts that were sent through the Common App didn’t make it to some of my schools on time.
Navigating a glitchy website wasn’t all that was required. From asking teachers to take the time out of their overly busy lives and write me a recommendation to staying on hold with admissions departments while I was on the bus on my way from high school to the university I took all my classes at, it was insanely time consuming.
It was also extremely emotionally difficult.
My entire social circle from my high school was filled with low-income inner-city students that had dreams of Case Western, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Oberlin, Barnard, Smith, Carnegie Mellon, Pomona, and other similar schools. We all set a high bar for ourselves.
Our conversations revolved around the Common App nonstop. How many colleges did you apply to? How many supplements are for that school? Have you “demonstrated interest” yet? Do you need help with your essays?
We were all helpful to each other. But we also were living with toxic levels of stress, family issues, money problems, anxiety, depression, and the nagging feeling of the fear that we’d make one simple mistake with transcripts or an essay and ruin our chances forever.
We cried in the bathroom. Vented while on the bus. Whispered while we were at the university we all took classes at, so as to not let anyone know we were still technically in high school. We argued with parents who were not supportive of our decision to leave the city or leave for college in general. We haggled with family members over the money we needed in order to send our test scores. We curtly told each other to “pull yourself together” even when we were in the midst of breakdowns and insecurities.
And we fought, not only with each other, but also with ourselves.
It wasn’t all bad, though. In a way, the Common App was like a game. Survival of the fittest, except our lives weren’t on the line—our futures were. We didn’t find out whether we won the game until March. But even for the people who didn’t get into their top choice, they are still better off because of the process.
It requires a certain level of discipline to curb your wanton desire to compulsively read books (or browse Facebook, or watch Orange is the New Black) and sit down and write. To concentrate. Not only this, but the level of introspection and creative writing demanded by the Common App help people to improve their writing skills, which is crucial to college success.