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The current college application process is outdated.
Today, many colleges, both private and public, are members of the Common Application organization — 620 schools across the country. Schools that are not on the Common App typically provide a similar application. The main application consists of filling out profile information, listing achievements and activities, and one main personal statement essay. The purpose of this piece is to capture significant aspects of the applicant’s personality through language. The recommended length of the personal statement is currently capped at 650 words. For colleges that do not require additional supplemental essays, the applicant has essentially finished, aside from payment and official submission. However, according to CollegeData, just under 500 Common App members require, suggest, or encourage some optional writing supplements. Don’t be fooled… “optional” may as well be “required” in college application language.
Applicants can spend hours poring over these supplemental essays. Collegiate’s Director of College Counseling Brian Leipheimer suggested that colleges use written supplemental pieces to “flesh out and evaluate a student’s ‘fit’ at an institution,” beyond test scores and achievements, and to gauge if the applicant is “willing to jump through some hoops to be accepted at a particular school.” That being said, schools should consider that at some point additional essays become overwhelming. Ranging anywhere from 150 to 650, or more, words, supplemental essays take students hours to draft and days to revise, until they feel comfortable submitting their writing. Jack Kachel (‘17) claimed, “[he] always had more to say than there was space available.”
Examining my own finished products, I cannot help but feel as though I, too, left off important details for the same reason. Leipheimer pointed out that, in his view, “The process is reaching a tipping point, and students may stop sending as many apps to schools requesting an excessive amount of written supplementation.”
Applying to college last semester, I devoted a disproportionately large amount of time to reworking and revising my supplemental essays, compared to my preparation time for alumni interviews. In my college process I have only had evaluative alumni interviews, but it is important to mention that there are other types of interviews offered, depending on where you look. On-campus interviews are still offered at many small liberal arts colleges with the ability to organize and host interviews with prospective students on campus. Although non-evaluative interviews are sometimes offered, completely tanking the interview is still likely to play some role in the decision the school renders. Regarding interviews, Leipheimer said, “When I was applying, on-campus interviews were a much more common part of the process, because applicant pools were smaller. They still are an important opportunity to provide interested students with a personal perspective of the school to which they are applying.”
I believe it is time for a change.
While we have at least progressed past sending handwritten applications through the mail, certain aspects of the application process could benefit from some reorganization and following a new approach. Schools need to explore different ways of developing the applicant’s full profile, whether it be through short answer prompts, “What is your favorite…” type questions, or interviews. As Felipe Campos (‘17) described, “Schools obviously have no perfect way to understand applicants, but offering a choice gives school best chance of obtaining this info.” College interviews offer a strong potential alternative to time-consuming supplemental essays. In an interview setting, the applicant has the opportunity to display verbal and nonverbal communication skills, as opposed to written essays, which only show verbal skills. In-person interviews and/or video-chat (like Skype) interviews both allow schools to observe how a candidate reacts and processes a question without planning and rehearsal beforehand.
Many small and private universities offer alumni interviews as an optional contribution for prospective freshman applications. Historically, these schools also possess the resources and alumni network to offer interviews to all students that both submit their application on time and live near an active alum offering interviews. From these interviews, the alumni pass on the conversation highlights, allowing admissions officers to consider a new perspective on the candidate. The Wake Forest University Admissions Office believes interviews are crucial to understanding the applicant. For that reason, they “prioritize interviews either face-to-face or via webcam.” While all the Ivy League schools offer optional interviews, most public schools currently do not. The combination of a high volume of applicants and limited financial resources makes it tough for public colleges to offer interviews.
To solve this issue for public schools, admissions offices should focus on improving the possibility for different types of interviews. Skype, phone conversations, and pre-recorded videos could all be used to make the interview process more easily accessible to public schools with large applicant pools. The Common Application could help facilitate this process by offering a new software or platform that allowed students to use one of these different types of interviews to supplement their main application, in addition to the preexisting personal statement, but as an alternative option to written supplemental essays.