Leah’s Lessons: Corrupt College Applications


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Charts show the number of suicides among 10- to 24-year-olds in the U.S., with the rate of change between 2003 and 2004. Chicago Tribune 2007

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Leah Burnam , Editor-in-Chief

The college application process in itself is a corrupt system that is in many ways only designed for you to fail. Most college admissions applications such as the Common Application, ApplyTexas and even MyCoalition, appear easy to the naked eye as they lay out the criteria step-by-step. But as you dig deeper into the individual sites, you will see that there is an abundant amount of information that must be filled out and an unusually large array of essays that must be written that are often completely disregarded.

I, like most seniors, am currently in the pool of overwhelmed college applicants this semester. Do not get me wrong, I consider myself an ambitious and driven student who strives to do good not just in my classes but also within my community. I have been a part of the HiLife for four consecutive years now and love writing, which has become an outlet for me. But college essays are a whole other ball park.

Mitchell Stevens, a sociologist at Stanford University, discovered in an 18-month long study at a top-tier liberal arts college, that admissions officers rarely look at personal essays if the student meets the admissible score requirements. And should the student not meet the grade requirements, then they likely get cut entirely or simply overlooked and their essays skimmed. Stevens explained in multiple interviews that personal essays rarely got “cursory attention” from admissions officers. Not to mention, the array of questions asked by colleges before even reviewing the rest of the application. These questions could include…will this applicant even accept our offer if we made one? Have we ever admitted someone from their zip code? How many special endorsements have they received? Did one of the officers favor them or the people they went to school with? Stevens concluded by saying that without fail, no student was ever admitted directly or thought of highly based upon their personal essay.

So, what is the point in having colleges assign us personal essays and “short” answer questions when all they will do is dismiss them during the final decision?

Most high schools, or most adults at least, will tell you to apply to around ten universities and include at least a couple of ‘back-up’ schools in case you do not get into your ideal choice. This is a myth. Yes, applying to ten universities can be beneficial especially if you are truly deciding between all ten and love each and every one of them. Yes, a (noticed how I said “a”) safety school is important to have. However, placing this mindset into a student body is toxic.

The adults explaining this concept are not the ones to blame, the colleges and the social constructs created by them and their long running history are. They are forgetting to tell the students that each of their applications requires at least one personal essay and may even require multiple short answer questions. They are forgetting to mention that if their application does not meet at least the general guidelines of fellow alumni, then their application will be thrown out. Not all universities, but most, strive to have the perfect students who want to do “good” in the world and who have an incredibly high test average. They say they want to change, yet none of their new admittees reflect that.

Thus far, most colleges in the country have made their schools ‘test optional’ for fall 2021 admissions due to COVID-19. On recent college applications they will say to only submit your test scores if you feel it will be beneficial or aide to your overall application. But what this truly means is that you should only submit your score if it is “good” or “really high.” Most will not tell you directly, but when it comes down to reviewing your application and private or large public college admission officers see that you received a 900, 1000, or even a 1100, they will probably throw out the application unless you have a tidy list of extracurriculars.

‘Why this school?’ I would be willing to assert every single college applicant has seen or heard this question before. ‘Why this school?’ Let me think…well I want a good education and it seems you are ranked number two in the country so why not. I can guarantee almost no student has a meaningful answer to this question. If thought through carefully, many students will research a very detailed point about the school that they like and somehow include that within their writing. Unless the student is 100% dedicated, which many actually are, then they will not know something off of the top of their head related to the question ‘why this school?’

Too many high school students stress themselves out year after year after year, in order to somehow prove themselves to their parents, employers and even college admissions boards. They wear themselves thin studying for the SAT and ACT, only to get a lower score than they wanted. Most of these students are in no way “unintelligent”. It is not because they do not deserve to get in to highly ranked universities, but because of test anxiety and the stigma of obtaining a low score.

Thankfully, multiple colleges have come to the realization that this arbitrary way of testing kids has gotten old and they have begun dropping test score requirements, which although it is small, it is a big step in the right direction. Recently, the University of California has been studying whether or not they will continue to use test scores in the admissions process or if they will cut it entirely. In total, about 1,050 accredited colleges have become fully test optional (not just due to COVID-19) or have entirely discontinued requiring test scores in general.

Without fail, colleges love to ask you what school or program you will be applying for and the major you intend to declare. Why do they ask us this when 80% (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) of students end up changing their major at least once before graduation anyways? If anything, this only adds to our stress thinking we need to make a choice the instant we fill out an application. They do not even give you a message saying you can change it at any point.

I am not trying to ostracize colleges from the arena of potential schools for myself and other fellow applicants, rather, this is intended to criticize the parts of the college application process that are detrimental and require changed. I am hopeful that, I and generations to come, will be able to see change within this education system and be able to make a difference in testing policies and application requirements.