The Common Application

by Sarah Feinberg, Features Editor
graphic by Emily Zhang

 After taking one class from a small theater in New Jersey at eight-years-old, Zoe* said she fell in love with theater. 

“I’ve known for a really long time that I wanted to do this in college because it’s just been accumulating over the years,” she said. “Some people will burn out with their passions, but I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

As an aspiring theater student, Zoe’s college application process entails much more. In addition to the personal statement and supplemental essays, she has to prepare acting, singing and dancing audition videos for prescreens, which are followed by live auditions if she is chosen to continue the audition process. 

“Auditioning is super fun, but it’s stressful. I don’t get to perfectly word my entry,” she said. “It’s all live and in front of the people who are going to get me into the school or not.”

As of now, Zoe has completed her personal statement on the Common Application, is almost finished with her prescreens, which she started in May, and has been working on her supplements. Many theater programs don’t have options to apply early, but applications are typically still due in September. 

Zoe said that some of her current top school choices are New York University, Penn State University, Syracuse University and University of Michigan. She said that she is keeping an open mind with what every school can offer.

“I really want a big campus, a lot of school spirit, preferably good sports [because] I’m a big hockey fan, a lot of clubs [and] a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Really just a full college experience beyond the program as well.”

Despite discouragement, Zoe said that she did not let anyone hold her back from following her passion.

“If you love theater and you want to do it professionally and do the college audition process, go for it. Don’t let people tell you, ‘you’re probably not going to get in’ or ‘you can’t do this,’’” she said. “Go for your dreams and make sure you get the help and support and the training you need because it’s a difficult process and it’s very competitive. It’s really about finding your network and support.”

An active member of many school activities, including LigerBots, jazz band and baseball, Jared* said that he hopes to attend a college where he can continue being active in the hobbies that have now become a large part of his life. He plans to study one of his main passions, engineering, in college.

“I would like to continue engineering, baseball and trumpet playing,” he said. “Since engineering will become part of my school instead of LigerBots, which is after school, I’d like to continue playing baseball and playing trumpet in my free time or in clubs.”

Jared said he is interested in specific fields of engineering and hopes to find a well matched curriculum.

“I really enjoy all aspects of engineering, so I would like to see the curriculum incorporate all sorts of areas of engineering, like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and other areas like that.”

Although he is mainly considering Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and University of Toronto for their strong mechanical engineering programs, Jared said that he is excited for the non-academic aspects of the schools.

 “Carnegie Mellon and Virginia Tech are near national parks,” he said. “That’s a key thing because I enjoy hiking and being outdoors in general, so having those nearby is perfect since I can walk around and relax a bit and kind of get away from everything else.”

Jared said that he is also interested in the possibility of studying abroad in college, as exploration and nature is important to him.

“[I would like] to get different perspectives on my major and learn from different people in different environments to get the full picture of it and get lots of experience, ” he said. 

Although the process may be daunting, he would advise others in his position to get started on the college application process early.

“It’s never too early to start the process,” he said. “If you start your research early it makes the process a lot easier.”

For Evan*, going to college means pursuing a combination of his passions in design and running. 

After beginning the process of prescreening for a career as an athlete, Evan decided to focus on his artistic interests.

“There’s just not a perfect school that is going to have a strong art and design program as well as a running team that would be not too big and not too competitive,” he said. “I still want to run in college, but more as a club team. That also allows me to look at a wider range of schools because schools that have that tend to have good art programs, lots of equipment and strong connections.”

Evan said that he is looking for a school with social and academic opportunities and a strong art program.

Several of his top schools include Carnegie Mellon School of Design, Pratt Institute and Northeastern University.

“I’m looking for a curriculum that is going to teach me industrial skills, skills that are used by professionals. I’m looking for connections with real companies in terms of internships or co-ops.”

Evan said that he has mostly finished his personal statement and has started his supplement essays. He said that one of the most time consuming aspects of his application process is preparing a portfolio, which is made up of 10 to 20 artworks.

“[Your artwork] is your voice, and that’s who you are. If you try to make something just because you think [the admission people] will like it, that’s not going to show them who you are in the portfolio, so I approach the portfolio as a challenge in showing who you are through your art,” he said. “The best way to do that is by really pursuing what gets you excited, and not viewing the portfolio as work to do.”

Evan said that it’s important for students to take the college application process steadily.

“It’s like Nike’s catchphrase, which is ‘Just Do It.’ Just sit down and fill out essays and don’t procrastinate,” he said. “Whatever comes out, you can revise later.”

For Heidi*, running has been a large part of her life since she started track and cross country in middle school. Although the college application process has been stressful, Heidi said her teammates have helped her cope.

“Running is always there for me,” she said. “My teammates are so supportive, and I love them, and that’s always a nice stress reliever.”

Heidi, who hopes to run in college, said she began the recruiting process last year and has been in contact with several college coaches. The recruitment process typically entails filling out recruiting forms with times, emailing college coaches directly and doing pre screenings.

“Stay in touch — that’s the biggest piece of advice I’ve heard, and just keep on expressing that you’re really interested in schools,” she said. “Even if the other coaches aren’t great at responding, just keep on trying and show that you’re interested.”

In addition to running, Heidi said that she is interested in environmental and marine sciences. She said she hopes to continue exploring this field in college.

“I want to be able to know that I’m in a school where I can explore all of [my interests], and not feel confined, through different cool courses and research opportunities.”

Heidi said she is attracted to smaller schools in New England with strong academics. As Heidi said that she hopes to continue running in college, she has been looking at schools that are part of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which are mainly D3 schools, allowing students to focus on both academics and athletics.

“I can’t see myself stopping running after high school,” she said. “I want to try to be as involved as possible because I really like the sport, and if I know I want to run in college really badly, then I hopefully will keep that spark inside me alive.”

Heidi said that it is important to focus on what matters most during the stressful application process.

“It’s all going to work out in the end. No matter where you go, you’ll probably be happy.”

*Names changed to protect students’ identities