28: The Dreaded College Application Process

28: The Dreaded College Application Process

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

The Dreaded College Application Process

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.


I’ve been arguing with my parents a lot lately. The reason? The dreaded college application process. I’m finishing eleventh grade and it turns out that I have more than a few “gaps” in the college resume that we juniors must submit at school. Gaps that my mom and dad are now insisting I “plug” over the summer. I gather that I need to work, demonstrate some kind of passion for “something” and perform community service. While I’m at it, a Nobel Prize nomination wouldn’t hurt either.

Now I’ll admit that I’m the kind of kid who just isn’t a “joiner.” I’d rather be home working on my own interests—most of which are, sadly, not going to help get me into college—than signing up for activities and clubs where I’ll feel uncomfortable and will have no fun. I don’t understand the need to create some persona for myself for the purpose of getting into college. I wonder how many college applications simply do not reflect the character of the applicant and therefore give no indication of what the student will do or how he or she will act on the university campus.

Yet my parents are panicking. Why did they allow me to give up piano lessons in the fourth grade? Why didn’t they send me off to the Model UN competition? Why didn’t they insist that I build houses with Habitat for Humanity?

You would find this last one particularly funny if you had met me. I am neither physically strong, nor well coordinated, and have absolutely no talent for construction. I would require so much assistance that I would definitely be a hindrance to one of these projects. And, for safety reasons, I would not want to step into a house that I had helped to build. Frankly, any community would be far better served by my parents sending a check equal to the amount of money it would cost to get me to the work site. The money could surely be spent more effectively, safety hazards would be prevented, and I wouldn’t be forced to do something I’d hate. Good for the community, but bad for the college resume I guess. Can you imagine me writing that my community service activity had been to write a check?

I wish my parents would calm down, although I have to admit that the reality of the college application process has been brought home to me by the college counseling class that I have been taking at school. I understand now that colleges look at everything about someone to decide whether or not he or she is what they are searching for. Athletic prowess, artistic ability, the clubs you have been in recently, community service... these are all on the list. All of these on top of SAT scores and academic accomplishments. I would advise all you freshmen and sophomores out there to download a common application form and try filling it in. We did this in a counseling class and the number of unfilled lines on my paper was very depressing. Acing every history test just isn’t enough, and I’m now more aware that I am lacking in a number of areas.

Another activity that we completed in our counseling class was a role play session. We each had to pretend to be the admissions director of a university by reviewing the profiles of several applicants and picking who we would admit to the university. I was stunned to see the differences in the selection of each class member and of our instructors. Our conclusions were so different. Think about this real-life example: one student application for a university centered on science boasted superb physics and chemistry grades, although nothing else about the application stood out. A kid strong in science, who wants to pursue an education and career in science. This makes sense. However, the reality for this student was that the college already had plenty of excellent science students and was after something more. It wanted to boost its tennis program. This meant that the advantage was with another applicant, a girl with good enough grades who could also contribute to the improvement of the tennis team. Strength in only one area of the application proved detrimental to the first candidate.

Learn the lesson now, freshmen! The college admission process is tough and competitive. When you consider the millions of teenagers across the country, even across the world, with whom you are competing for college spots, it seems almost incomprehensible that you will get in anywhere. Your goal must be to make admissions directors think, “Wow, here is a quality person who could contribute greatly to our school.” You need to present a well-rounded resume, which shows you as the type of person who can make an impact on the school in more ways than one. It is a case of “what can you bring to this college that will increase our reputation and give even more high school students a reason to think about applying here?”

As I’ve said already, I don’t particularly agree with this approach, as I think it results in many resumes which are fabrications, manufactured by kids, their parents and any external advisors, to paint a picture for college admissions departments. However, the process is what it is, so I offer you this advice: get started early and try and find opportunities for jobs, extra study and community service which most appeal to you. Leave it too late and you will be grabbing at anything that comes along as application filler. Much better to get a jump on the process and fill your time with activities you enjoy.

My parents and I have reached a compromise for now. I get to take a fabulous journalism class, for which I can’t wait, but only after I’ve filled some of the larger gaps on my resume. I’ll be teaching children English, although I don’t see myself as a teacher, and I’ll be painting a community center, although I’m sure I’m not much of a painter. Poor kids, poor building! But I hope to see you in college!

~Thomas Ranocchia

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