Feeling alone as you swim through the terrifying waters known as the college admission process? Have no fear! We have several seniors blogging about ups, downs, and random in-betweens of their college process for the next 12 months (from June 2014 to June 2015!). Sit back, relax, and get that “OMG I totally get you, bro” feeling. Information for how to contact a blogger will be at the bottom of his/her posts.
I was one of those people, I’ll admit, who set up their Common App account in those early morning hours of August first. A friend later remarked on what a folly that was: “People who do that amuse me, because we all know they’re gonna be finishing it up within 24 hours of the deadline like the rest of us.” I allowed as to how that may have been–almost certainly will end up being–true, and yet, I didn’t feel anything beyond a small, sordid embarrassment at having been one of that eager number. Certainly nothing like regret. Setting up the account was taking that first step towards getting my hands around the remarkably protean process that is applying to college in this whimsical, streamlined, late capitalist bugbear of an age.
The first thing I did after setting up the account was to search up some of my “top schools” (scare quotes to put a damper on some of the pressure that phrase has begun to incite in me) in order that I might add them to my dashboard. Typing the names was easy, adding them was easier–if a little slow due to my internet’s late-night unreliability–and gazing with a strange pride at the college names listed neatly in a row on my computer screen was easiest of all. It made instinctive sense–here is Jacob setting up the Common App! Look at all these eager little signifiers! College as commodity! It all seemed so simple, so plaintively here, simultaneously fort/da and yes, I will be pursuing on-campus housing/no, I will not be.
Which brings me to the crux of this article, the $1,000,000 question: is the Common App human?
It sounds like a glib question, I know. The Common App is a mere Web site, no more intended for livelihood or personhood than any other tool meant to get us from Point A–the jovial hope of early senior year–to point B–orientation day at The College of Your Choice. But let’s think about those tools: college brochures, for starters. Known the world around for their charming veneer, their patina of constructed-to-the-hilt mass appeal to our collective collegiate unconscious–Jung as admissions officer. Go up to any enterprising rising senior or seasoned college counselor to ask after the trustworthiness of said brochures and prepare yourself for an earful on the laughable artifice of those ubiquitous tools of recruitment. But also, think about your “top school,” if you have one. If you’ve ever seen a brochure for it, call that memory to mind. Remember the images and words on the pages, and tell me if some feeling doesn’t rise up in you beyond the artifice. If, despite the fact that all that seems to exist on the page is trope after trope about student-to-faculty ratios, study abroad and campus community, something deeper seems to emanate from the brochure for you, doesn’t it stand to reason that there’s something strangely real about it?
I got the same feeling scrolling through the Common App that night/early morning. Its dismal color scheme and sans serif explosion made me feel nothing in and of themselves, but with every supplement prompt I clicked through to see and every app fee I winced at the sight of, I felt more and more like I was doing something important. Not just “this is your future!” important or “these are your desires!” important, but something a little more tied in to my sense of self. Which is a dangerous thing to feel with regards to the college applications processes–we’ve all heard the regret-tinged reassurances of college admissions officers explaining that it’s not you we’re rejecting, it’s your application, which does not amount to the same thing.
Except that, after awhile, it kind of does. For all the objectivity and hard fact of it–even of the essays, which, by the time they are pared down to fit in the word count, maybe achieve some aura of materialism (personal statements in the age of mechanical reproduction!)–there’s something of ourselves we put into our college applications, even as we tell ourselves and others we aren’t, even as we decry the whole process as a regrettable bevy of falsehoods. We can say that the college application process amounts to little more than, like, reifying the existing social order, which is largely true; but there’s something else there, too. The longer we stare at that screen and give bits of ourselves to it, the more it begins to reflect our visage–hopefully not in an end-of-Animal-Farm, which-are-the-humans-and-which-are-the-pigs way, but rather like a marionette. In being controlled by us, the thing maybe becomes us, while keeping its own je ne sais quoi. The depiction of us that our application will proffer to an admissions committee looks about as much like us as a marionette looks like a human–enough to be recognizable, enough to get across the illusion of life, its essence–and ours.
So, yeah, I think the Common App is human, because we are, and while we are not our applications, they certainly could not exist without us. And I think this is relevant because, as we proceed on this arduous, exciting, nauseating journey, we need to remember that humans are fallible. We’re fallible, our teachers and classmates are fallible, our parents are fallible, our counselors are fallible (hopefully not too much so), admissions committees are fallible, and as I’m sure last year’s seniors remember, the Common App is definitely fallible. But we still need to trust it, and to trust ourselves, in order to get to where we want to be.
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