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College application season is kind of like the First World War. You suddenly find yourself fighting with and against the entire world (of 17 and 18 year-olds) under ungodly conditions (mounting homework and looming deadlines), and at the end of it all, you’re left with an emptiness and uncertainty of why you ever endured the struggle in the first place (at least, until you get that big envelope in the mail). If this sounds a little dramatic to you, you clearly were not a participant in the 2013-2014 college app struggle, which brings us to the final similarity: You kind of had to be there.

Just as the soldiers of World War One wrote letters detailing their struggles in the trenches, we here at TP wanted to share our college app experiences–and the lessons they gave us–with you.

On School Selection

From Ugh to Yes!

Although school selection is personal, everybody can agree that it is difficult to know exactly what you want. Spring editorial intern Paige Sheffield writes:

“I went to a scholarship competition at a local state school a bit reluctantly; I was so sure that it was not the place for me…After spending so much time thinking that I could not go to this school, I went to a presentation where the speaker spoke words that sounded like they were coming from my mouth. Seriously, it was as though he took all of my constant rants about education and turned them into a thoughtful, inspiring presentation. I then walked across campus, where everyone was so friendly; it had a community-feel, even though that was something I hadn’t known I wanted. The program also places lots of emphasis on community service and study abroad: two things that are super important to me in a college. Everything people say about ‘fit’ is true. That school went from ‘Ugh, I guess I’ll go to this competition’ to ‘This is my dream school.'”

The moral of the story: Sometimes the perfect school for you, like the nerdy best friend in the cliche teen movie, was standing right in front of you all along.

Applying to 45 Colleges

It’s not always easy to find one particular dream school. Fall editorial intern Karen**, who applied to many schools to get the best possible financial aid, writes:

“So I decided it was a good idea to apply to 45 colleges, most of which have less than a 20 percent acceptance rate since I had fee waivers and liked them. Long story short I spent 10 hours working on supplements December 31st and January 1st, and I almost went crazy. When I realized that I would have to pay over $500 for CSS profiles I think I somehow went even crazier. I will hear back from 40 of them over a two week period, so that will also be an interesting experience. Hopefully it will be worth it, but it is not something I encourage unless you really are committed to writing so many supplements.”

The Moral of the story: Although the “right” number of schools is definitely a personal matter–as evidenced by these articles–Samantha affirms that that number is probably less than 45.

Research Schools Before You Apply

Spring editorial intern Niharika Roychoudhury also cautions against applying to too many schools without proper research.

“I was originally planning on applying to 5 U.S. universities (and 2 Australian ones)… My insecurity acted up and by the end of the first week of January, I had completed 17 more. You read that right. My new number was 23 colleges. That’s not even the funny part. A lot of deadlines had already passed as January 1st was the date to beat, so the paranoid me started applying to tiny liberal arts colleges I wouldn’t even have looked at once before.

“One of these was Greendale University* a small, private Christian university. I did not know exactly how Christian until I started on the application. Maybe I should have been warned when they asked me for my Church denomination. I clicked on the last option in the dropbox, an empty line lower than the rest, as though it was a zit to be borne – no denomination. But it was the essay that did the trick. “What does a relationship with God mean to you?” No, basically anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows that I am a staunch agnostic. … I have never closed a browser window that fast. I have not been back on that website despite the 4 mails from Greendale University that wish me ‘Blessings!'”

The moral of the story: Future college applicants, heed our warnings. Be open to changing your mind, assess your ability to complete all your applications and pay all your fees, and do your research on your schools.

On Technical Difficulties

An online college application that can be submitted to hundreds of colleges is far superior to the old pen-and-paper “I’m going to write this exact essay twelve times” and “If I have to write my name one more time I’m going to flip a desk” approach. Still, the Internet isn’t error-proof, and various technical difficulties plagued the class of 2014/2018.

Wifi Can Really Suck

Senior editorial intern Chloe Lee writes about Wi-Fi issues in the days before her deadlines:

“My wifi has had a history of leaving me when I needed it most. Thankfully when I tried to submit 3 of my applications the day before the due date, the Internet was working and I was excited to be done. Of course, when I tried to pay for my applications, my wifi decided to fail me. I kept trying for another 2 hours and it didn’t work. I was stressed out and was on the brink of breaking down when I had to leave for dinner outside. After seeing me all stressed out, my dad suggested I try going to the computer store later. Thank god there was a computer store near where we went out for dinner. With the computer store sales people looking at me suspiciously behind me, I was finally able to submit my applications!”

The moral of the story: The lesson here, of course, is to always have an Apple store readily available in case of technical difficulties.

The Common App Website Can Also Really Suck

Fall editorial intern Kaitlyn Kelly writes about her own not-so-easily-solved difficulties.

“I ended up leaving the writing supplements to do later. Long story short, I spent a lot of my winter break perfecting essays. I was fixing one on the plane ride home and somehow it disappeared! I had to rewrite the entire essay two hours before the midnight deadline. And on top of that, the Common App was having technical issues that wouldn’t let me stay logged in. It was the most stressful night of my life! But, everything did work out in the end.”

The moral of the story: Back up absolutely everything at least twice. Writing a supplement is hard enough the first time; you don’t want to deal with doing it a second time, with Common App conspiring against you and deadlines approaching.


Fall editorial intern Jilliann Pak spent her January 1 on the opposite side of the struggle, watching the world burn from a distance.

“I finished all my apps about two days before, so I was able to sit back and relax and track the #commonappcrash2014 hashtag on twitter a few hours before the January 1st deadline, and it was the best. I just had a cup of hot chocolate and snacks as I watched the furiously passive aggressive Common App crash twitter feed. Someone made a fake Common App tech support twitter and was giving out ridiculous advice that people actually followed. Weirdly enough, this was the most entertaining part of the college app season for me.”

The moral of the story: There are two extremely important lessons to be learned from Jilliann’s story. As always, don’t procrastinate, but most importantly–and most applicably because, let’s be real, you’re going to procrastinate–there are people who will take advantage of heightened stress to troll. Beware.

On Deadlines and Procrastination

I had a friend who messaged me for help with her application on January 1. She didn’t start her supplements until 11:30, and her application didn’t go through until 12:06 or so. While Common App, thankfully, was having technical difficulties for some time zones (not ours) and her college was accepting applications submitted on January 2, it was still an extremely stressful time. The lesson: Don’t procrastinate. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t procrastinate.

Procrastination Destination

Fall editorial intern Chris Kurien faced a similar dilemma trying to submit his application on January 1. 

“So one of the colleges I was applying to had their deadline on January 1st as do most colleges. So me, being the procrastinator that I am, waited till that day to do my supplements. So here I am doing my supplement and everything is going fine. I had submitted the actually Common App at about 9pm and just had to turn in the supplements.

I finally finished my essays at 11:45pm (I know so close). I entered all my supplements into the boxes and when I pressed enter at about (11:48),  Common App crashes and the supplement didn’t go through (of course this happens to me). I started to panic and kept trying to log back in and the site was still down. By now it was already January 2. So I waited until 3am when the site was back on to turn in the supplements I also emailed the college about the problem. Thankfully the college emailed back later that day to tell me that they knew about the Common App glitch and said they would still accept my application. Moral of the story: NEVER wait till 11:48 on the day of to submit an app.”

Second verse, same as the first: Don’t procrastinate.

Deadlines Are Yet Another Thing That Sucks

Deadlines also plagued Niharika during the college app season. She writes:

“I left my application agent to piece together the deadlines and college types and just let me know which essays to write. On the 28th of October (which was also my mother’s birthday), I checked up Early Action for the University of Florida. Imagine my surprise when the website coolly informed me that the Regular Decision deadline was the 1st of November. I called my mother, she called the counselor, everyone was yelling, it was a mess made worse by the patchy communication (due to me being away at boarding – we have very strict rules on calling home), and time was ticking.”

Moral of the story: The problem here is not procrastination so much as being aware of deadlines. Know when everything is due–and get it done as early as possible.

World War I?

College applications…aren’t like World War I. Yes, there are some difficulties, and yes, there is disillusionment, and yes, of course, your room starts to smell like poison gas when you’ve been working on applications for thirty-six hours straight, but everybody who supplied these letters from the college app trenches survived.

To future college applicants: Don’t procrastinate, plan ahead for technical difficulties, try not to apply to seven hundred schools–but even if you don’t follow any of the advice given in the above stories, you’ll be perfectly, perfectly fine.

* = University name changed

** = Source name changed.

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the author

Gabrielle Scullard hails from suburban Arizona, where she is a senior at a public high school. She spends most of her life taking AP classes and crying about her future. When she is not stressing out about school, she plays viola (it’s like a violin but better) and signs in an American Sign Language choir (it’s like a vocal choir but better). She wants to be a superhero, but an internship at The Prospect is basically the same thing. She hopes her writing can help someone or, at least, make someone smile. You can find her on her Tumblr or at home, but she would prefer it if you didn't do either of those things.

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