A Senior’s Reflections on the (Early) College Admission Process

Stephanie Chen, Op-Ed Editor


Finishing my first two college applications might have been one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. On one hand, I felt an enormous sense of relief –with luck, I would be free from college-related worry by December 15th—but on the other hand, I felt loss.

Condensing myself into a few short essays, none of which exceeded 650 words, was difficult. Before applying, the admissions officers had told us to “be ourselves” during the essays, and to write about things we were truly passionate about. But I’d been running around frantically over the last few years, trying to do all the activities I’d taken on, and I was exhausted.

How do I make them see how hard I’ve worked? I couldn’t just say, “I worked a lot on this, I dedicated a lot of time to this, and I feel passionate about it.” I also couldn’t go into extensive detail in my writing. The admissions officers were reading my essays without any knowledge of who I was—they needed to get the general picture.

I ended up writing thousands of words, then painstakingly cutting them out. Entire sections of my essays were thrown away, and to me, every part of my essays was important. I wanted to let the admissions officers know who I was, but I couldn’t do it under the word limit.When my essays finally did adhere to the word limit, they sounded stilted and chopped. Instead of having smooth transitions, my essays jumped from one idea to the next.

Another issue was that I lacked passion in my writing. Let’s face it – practicing my viola is nice, but I don’t like it nearly as much as sleeping, reading comfort books, or relaxing. I could write brilliant essays about those subjects, but everyone likes doing those things. I already felt that I wasn’t being my genuine self by picking these topics for my essays.

So, even though admissions officers told me to write without inhibition, I worried. What if the admissions officers don’t have a sense of humor? What if they don’t like who I am? What if, what if, what if…these questions haunted me day and night.

Another part about the college admissions process that bothered me was the list of activities. There were 10 slots, and I did more than ten activities from 9th grade to 12th grade. I used to stress out about not having enough activities, but now I faced the opposite issue. I’d put a lot of effort into each activity, but there was only a tiny slot for each one. For the Common App, we only got two or three sentences of description for each activity.

This just seemed unfair. After all my years of work, my activities only merited a few minutes of my admissions officer’s attention.

Surprisingly, my grades were the least worrisome part of my application. Years of studying became these impersonal numbers, and there was nothing I could do about it. I used to stress about my less-than-acceptable SAT II Subject scores, but on my application, I submitted all of them without batting an eyelash. Yes, they were pretty bad—but colleges wanted to see all of them, and if I used score choice, they would automatically assume I was hiding a bad score. So instead of hiding them, I submitted them.

Nothing I can do about it now.

In retrospect, college admissions crept up on me and I feel that I haven’t submitted the best application possible. Consumed with all the extracurriculars I’d taken on before college, I’d neglected the actual admissions process and consequently, my essays, the only part of my application I could control at this point, were subpar.

But at the same time, I’ve realized how little everything I used to worry about mattered. When I looked at my application as a whole and saw my life reduced to a few pages, I was disappointed by the shallow representation of myself. But at the same time, I’ve realized that one bad thing on your college application will not make a huge difference. What really matters is the impression the admissions officer has of you after they read your application through the first time.