A more dynamic common application

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

It’s easy once you have actually become a college student to forget all the drama of the application process. My initial memories of applying are all of writing and rewriting essays, consulting my college advisor about what schools to look at, going on various tours and logging into the Common Application too many times to count. In truth, the admissions process began as far back as my time in middle school. That was when our school counselor first brought up how our academic and extracurricular choices could affect what colleges were open to us in the future – and that’s when the stress began.

Going into high school, I knew what academic track I would follow: AP classes freshman and sophomore year, followed by the IB Programme. By junior year I was attending regular SAT prep classes and planning out when I would take the exam and additional subject tests. Then there was the barrage of tours and essay drafts, culminating in an early decision application to the College of William and Mary. By December of 2013, I knew where I was going to spend the next four years of my life – the fever dream that was the college application process had come to an abrupt halt.

It’s incredible to me how easily I forgot the stress of applying to college.

It’s incredible to me how easily I forgot the stress of applying to college (and that high school students are going through that same stress right now). That period of intense anxiety was something everyone accepted as the norm – until now, perhaps. Last week, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released its report, “Turning the Tide,” about how to improve the college admissions process. Endorsed by universities across the country, the report puts forth numerous suggestions for changes to what colleges should look for in prospective students. These, according to USA Today include:

-A decrease in emphasis on standardized testing

-A greater emphasis on student engagement in “meaningful” and “sustained” community service

-A greater appreciation for contributions students make within the home

-An emphasis on quality of extracurricular activities over quantity

-A greater encouragement for students to look for schools that work best for them, not schools that are the most “prestigious”

One of the main goals of these changes is to make the application process fairer for students from lower-income households. Despite the incredible workload applying to college burdened me with, I was much luckier than most students; my parents were able to afford a college advisor to help me with essays and SAT classes to help me boost my score. I had the free time to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, as I was not needed to help out at home. By giving greater appreciation to the responsibilities and difficulties faced by lower-income students, colleges can avoid overlooking applicants’ real potential.

Another goal of the report’s suggestions is to help lessen the stress placed on students to outcompete each and to look for real commitment to specific interests and causes. This is an improvement that would have benefited me directly – the strange irony of my application experience was how little it felt like it was about me. Here I was making an incredibly important decision about my future, and all my thoughts were directed at what college’s wanted, from my academic work to how I spent my free time.

By bringing the focus away from test scores and checklists of honor societies and clubs, both the college and the student benefit.

By bringing the focus away from test scores and checklists of honor societies and clubs, both the college and the student benefit. The student finds a place that appreciates and supports their passions – they find the “best fit.” And when you’re picking where you’ll live, work and study for your semi-adult years, isn’t that what everyone – both student and college – should want?

Email Isabel Larroca at imlarroca@email.wm.edu.


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