The Uncommon App: Fall Chaos

Introducing the “Uncommon App,” a new column by Stacey Dorogy that offers an insider’s perspective on Stratford seniors applying to college.

“You have to sell your soul to the devil and take the SAT,” said senior Margaret Anne Rowe, ticking off the current list of colleges and universities she is applying to. “You have to sell yourself, become an academic prostitute.”

This is what seniors have to look forward to at the beginning of what is supposed to be the best year of high school.

The fall is pure chaos, whether you are applying to two schools or seven. Or 10.

“When I started out, I was applying to seven. As of last week, I’m applying to 10,” Rowe said.

For Rowe, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and Carleton College are the latest additions to a list that already included the University of Georgia, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Georgetown, Dartmouth College, Emory, and Macalester College.

“They seem pretty tense,” college office counselor and English teacher Ms. Mary Beth Gumbart said of the seniors. “They have an awful lot of balls up in the air because they still have all of their classes and their extracurricular commitments and then you’ve thrown on this very big responsibility that we can guide them through, but they have to do all of the work for it.”

Deciding which schools to apply to is stressful enough, and that’s before the actual work of filling out the applications, writing personal statements, and begging for recommendations begins.

“You need to treat it like another class, and be willing to put forth the work,” said senior Abbie Nash, who is applying to UGA, UVA, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Furman, Washington and Lee, and the University of North Carolina.

Those seven schools, Nash added, require more than a dozen separate essays.

“The bulk of essays are just sometimes a little overwhelming and the deadlines come up faster than you expect,” Nash said.

Writing the essays often requires students to first decode the question.

“They never make sense in one way or another,” Rowe said, “and it’s really awkward so you e-mail [the college] and then they e-mail you back like the answer is really obvious but it’s not because you e-mailed them. WORD COUNT, WORD COUNT, WORD COUNT, it’s all about word count. It’s stupid.”