The Common Application


By Theo Younkin

Graphic by Emily Zhang

Interested in pursuing softball in college, Lila* is continuing the process of reaching out to college coaches in hopes of being offered a spot on a team. Recently, she’s been in contact with the softball coach at Emerson College, who has confirmed to her that although nothing has been officially finalized, she most likely has a place on their team.

“How much [money] I can get will probably be the deciding factor in whether I go there or not,” she said. “But the coach has said, ‘Yeah, you’re on the team, there’s a spot for you on the team.’”

Lila’s top priority has been expanding the list of schools she’s interested in. She said that one of the biggest factors that help her decide whether a school is right for her is the programs and majors it offers.

“Some of the schools I like are more STEM schools, and I’m not trying to do a STEM major,” she said. “I want to have a good program for the majors I’m interested in.”

Right now, Lila’s top choices include Brandeis University, Emerson College, Bentley College and Wesleyan University. She’s been finalizing the topics she’ll cover in her supplemental essays but has yet to begin writing them. While brainstorming essay topics is difficult, she said the most challenging part of the process is simply beginning.

“Getting the first sentence down is probably the hardest part for me,” she said. “Once I pick the topic or narrow it down and just get a bunch of words on the paper, it’ll be a lot less stressful and a lot easier than it is in my head.”

Lila said that while the college application process is inherently stressful, it’s been exciting to contemplate and plan for her post-high school future.

“I have a lot of friends in college that I’ve visited and they’re having a great time, so I’m just excited to go to the next step in life,” she said. “[I’m] excited to be somewhere else [and] experience new things.”

Rose*, who is hoping to attend art school, has been finalizing her supplemental essays and putting the finishing touches on the rest of her application. After taking a deeper dive into some of the colleges on her list, she said that she reconsidered a few schools that didn’t feel quite right for her.

“I’m realizing that there are a lot of schools that I have on my list that I don’t actually want to go to after having done visits and [looked] more at the campus website,” she said. “There are some colleges that I’m just hearing about now that …. sound like something up my alley.”

Rose has expanded her list to include the University of Maine, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pratt Institute, just to name a few, and she’s planning to apply Early Action wherever she can. She said that while it’s been disappointing to realize that she most likely will not be accepted into all of her top choices, she’s confident that she’ll end up attending a school that’s right for her.

“There are a lot of schools that I probably won’t get into, just considering the accepted portfolios…and realizing that my portfolio might not be the fit for them,” she said. “I’m realizing that if that school is not the fit for me, then there has to be another school out there that will accept me and be a pretty good fit, so it’s exciting.”

Rose said that the hardest part of assembling her application has been coming up with original topics to discuss in her essays.

“At the start of writing them all, I seemed to have a lot more energy and spirit about what I wanted to talk about,” she said. “By now, it feels like I’ve exhausted all parts of my identity.”

After submitting his application to the Berklee School of Music over the summer, Ben* shifted his focus to preparing his supplemental essays and portfolio for the other colleges he’s applying to. As a music student, several of his applications require something most high school students would find terrifying: live auditions.

Ben said that the most gratifying part of the audition process is seeing all of the preparation and commitment he’s put into his auditions come to fruition.

“It’s a lot of work, so just seeing the final product at the end of it [is] really rewarding,” he said.

In addition to Berklee, Ben plans to apply to McGill University, the New England Conservatory of Music, UMass Amherst, Amherst College, New York University and the Manhattan School of Music. He’s considering applying Early Action where he can, but the fast-approaching deadlines make it challenging for him to find time to record all of his audition videos.

Ben said that while devoting enough time to preparing college applications is important, it’s also essential to balance extracurriculars and academics on top of applications during senior year.

“I didn’t want my life to revolve around preparing for college, but I also know that there’s a balance that needs to be met,” he said. “Outside of actual classes, I’ve been trying to keep my extracurriculars pretty consistent. It’s definitely tricky to maintain a good balance.”

Ben said that the upcoming deadlines have been a source of stress, but he’s looking forward to feeling the satisfaction that comes with finishing his applications.

“I feel like time is definitely running out. I really have to get my act together,” he said. “But probably when it’s all done, I’ll take a look backwards and see how far I’ve come. It’s definitely a lot of work, but I think it’ll be really rewarding in the end.”

After contacting and visiting a few more college coaches and schools, Tom*, who hopes to play football in college, said that he feels like his applications are finally starting to take shape. He has finished his essays and is almost done assembling the rest of the applications.

Tom said that the hardest part of coming up with topics for his essays is staying true to himself, even while trying to connect with admissions officers.

“If you play a sport or something like that, you automatically get put into a box [of] a dumb football player,” he said. “Finding something that really resonates with people was kind of hard.”

Recently, more coaches have been reaching out to Tom, and he’s been attending game day visits at schools he’s interested in almost every weekend. For the most part, his list of colleges hasn’t changed, except for the addition of Franklin Pierce University. Tom said that the key to balancing academics, football and his college application is being a clear communicator.

“There will be days when I’m exhausted, and I might not be able to go [visit a college] this Saturday, but I’ll communicate and be like, ‘I can come next Saturday,’” he said. “Or, ‘I have a lot of homework, I’m really stressed, and I have a football game coming up, so is there a chance I could come on Saturday?’”

Tom said that he’s gained perspective over the past few months as he is seeing his application come together.

“I’m feeling good and a lot less stressed than I was a few months ago,” he said. “Things are starting to take shape a little bit, so I know what it’s going to look like a lot more.”

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