The Common Application


By Theo Younkin, Features editor

Graphic by Emily Zhang

*Denotes names changed to protect students’ identities


After his first year of playing competitive football in seventh grade, Tom* said he was driven to continue honing his athletic skills by a desire to help his team succeed.

“I hated losing more than I liked winning,” he said. “I was often the reason we lost in middle school. So I was like, ‘I’m going to work at it and try harder and be one of the best because I don’t like losing. I don’t like hurting my team.’”

After three years of playing for South’s football team, Tom hopes to continue the sport in college, but the recruitment process has proven difficult. He said that one of the most challenging parts of the college process has been contacting college coaches, a hoop all prospective student-athletes must jump through.

“It’s been frustrating, honestly, because you have to talk to so many people, and most of the time you don’t even get a response,” he said. “It makes me question things like, ‘Am I really that good?’ or ‘Do I have a future in the sport?’”

Ultimately, Tom said that he hopes to end up at a larger-sized school with a business program, but above all, he values a supportive community around sports.

“I want to have something where people are looking forward to coming and supporting the team,” he said. “[I want] a lot of support, people showing up to the games, the care and love around things like football.”

Some of his top choices currently include the University of New Hampshire, UMass Dartmouth, Pittsburg State, Curry College and Springfield College, and he’s just begun the Common and FAFSA applications. Like many other seniors at this time, Tom said he is finding ways to stand out from the other applicants.

“You definitely need something that separates you from the rest, whether you’re great academically or sports-wise,” he said. “Your college essay is a great place for you to find something that makes you stick out, like a story […] or something you’ve grown from.”


When Lila* first started playing softball on a whim in early elementary school, she never imagined her passion for the sport would continue into the present day. 

“I started playing when I was in first grade, just because Newton Girls’ Softball was very advocated around school, and all my friends were doing it,” she said. “I just stuck with it because I really loved it.”

Now, she’s in the process of reaching out to college coaches in hopes that she’ll receive an offer from one of them.

“I’m talking to three coaches right now, and they’re just watching me play,” she said. “Pretty soon, [they’ll] start telling you if they want you or not, and then you do a pre-read.”

Although Lila is currently networking with coaches, she said that the athletic recruitment process is clouded by uncertainty.

“Nothing is definite. Even if a coach does reply to you, it doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “It’s up to you to just play your best whenever they’re watching you and to always keep communicating with them.”

Lila’s just starting to write her personal statement, and she’s hoping to attend a smaller school with a marketing or film program in New England or New York, in particular. Some of her top choices currently include Emerson College, Brandeis University and Bentley University. 

Lila said that while devoting enough time and planning to the process is helpful, it’s important to recognize that there’s only so much power you hold over your future. 

“I started thinking about what I wanted in college the summer going into sophomore year, and that’s helped me with narrowing down my choices,” she said. “You just have to hope that you do everything you can, but in the end, it’s not up to you.”


Although Ben* began his musical journey with piano lessons at the age of eight, it wasn’t until fourth grade when he discovered the clarinet through his elementary school’s band program that he felt things click into place. 

Now, in addition to the clarinet, Ben plays the flute and the saxophone. He said that some of his greatest musical influences have been the teachers and students whom he’s had the opportunity to play with.

“I’ve been very privileged to work with a lot of amazing teachers and a lot of amazing students as well,” he said. “Working with a lot of cool people has shaped my experience and encouraged me to continue pursuing music.”

Ben hopes to continue studying music in college. Based on considerations about location and academic programs, some of his top choices currently include Berklee, UMASS Amherst, the New England Conservatory, New York University and Juilliard. 

“I don’t want to go too far away from home, so I’ve been mostly looking at colleges in Massachusetts and New York,” he said. “With the colleges themselves, having a really strong program and classical and jazz music is important to me because I’ve been studying interdisciplinary music for the past couple of years.”

Ben said that for him, the most challenging part of the process has been deciding what he’s looking for in his post-high school life.

“The choices are infinite,” he said. “There are so many colleges, so many different careers […] I really can’t put my finger on a single part of the college process that I consider to be easy.”

This past summer, Ben attended a summer program at Berklee, which helped him get a better sense of the type of school he wanted to attend.

“Berklee’s in the city, and I found that I’ve enjoyed being in the city because there’s just so much you can do,” he said. “My experience with Berklee at the summer program […] helped to define more of what I’m looking for.”


For Rose*, going to college means pursuing her passions for both art and teaching. As she’s hoping to attend art school, Rose’s college application requires a bit more than the traditional personal statement and supplementary essays.

“You have an art portfolio and then some schools require you to write a little bit about each piece,” she said. “It also depends on the school. Some schools [ask you to] submit an entire sketchbook.”

One of the biggest challenges that come with building a portfolio is selecting which works to include. Rose said that she is struggling to build a collection that demonstrates her ability to create art through a variety of styles and mediums. 

“I have a lot over the years that I’ve accumulated, and I don’t know which ones to use for technical skills or which ones for [showing], ‘This is my art, this is what I personally like to do,’” she said. “They want to see process too, so finding a balance between the three has been hard.”

Currently, Rose’s working on her essay but has yet to finish visiting the schools she’s interested in. Based on the school’s location as a major consideration, she hopes to attend either the Rhode Island School of Design or the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and pursue majors in illustration and education. 

“For me, location is really big,” she said. “I want to have trees and nature and to be able to hike my college or have hikes available to me.”

Rose* said that for her, the most challenging aspect of the application process is not comparing herself to other students in the same boat.

“I’ve been like, ‘Where’s everybody else in the process?’ They have all these things done, they have their portfolios done, their college essay has already been edited to perfection,” she said. “Everybody’s going at their own pace. Being different from others is a good part of the process.”

Rose* said that she would advise others also going through the process to prioritize long-term planning.

“Get a schedule and organize yourself,” she said. “Start early, know what you want. Make sure you get yourself into a space where you’re not overwhelmed.”

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