Crafting unique college essays, ignoring competition preoccupy seniors

Meher Hans, Editor-in-Chief

For senior Arielle Williams, the college application process has been nothing short of agonizing.

“I’m second guessing and worrying about getting everything done on time and
if it’s good enough,” Williams said. “That’s the most stressful part.”

She’s not alone. According to a Nov. 30 spot survey, 75 percent of seniors here cite the college application process as a source of stress.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 20.5 million high school seniors nationwide will apply regular decision to college. They’re careening toward a Jan. 1 deadline.

According to guidance department chairman John Komosa, 242 students here applied to schools early action or early decision and therefore met a Nov. 1 deadline. Those students generally learn their application status this week.

Regular or early decision, seniors like Sophie Sun cite college essays as a primary stressor.

“There are too many essays and they take a lot of time. You have to put a lot of thought into each of them,” Sun said. “They aren’t just regular English essays that you can whip up in a night,” she said.

More than 700 colleges process admissions through the Common Application, according to the nonprofit’s website. This year’s prompt for application essays, which limits responses to 650 words, offered five open-ended questions. Among them were “Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure,” “Describe a problem you’ve solved or would like to solve” and “Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.”

For senior Marjorie Bowerman, who is applying to nine schools, essays that ask applicants to describe themselves have proved to be the toughest.

“It’s difficult to come up with an essay that doesn’t sound scripted,” Bowerman said. To combat this, Bowerman gets input from her parents. “They tell me what sounds weird and needs to be fixed and what sounds good.”

This pen-and-paper survey of 113 seniors was conducted in selected A1 classes Dec. 12.

The prestigious schools Sophie Sun is still considering – as of press time, she was still eyeing Princeton and Stanford – tend to require two to five essays of up to 800 words. Sun, who learned she was admitted to Harvard Dec. 13 and is considering whether she will actually attend there, has spent an hour each weekend since Aug. 1 writing and revising essays to avoid high stress levels right before deadlines, she said. For her, the hardest essays are those with prompts like, “What do you like most about [college name]?”

“For those, it’s not about you, which makes it a lot harder to write,” Sun said. “I had to do deep research about the colleges I was applying to and find the quirky, interesting facts about each school.”
But senior Jessica Yan has found a way to save time on college essays.

“A lot of prompts are repeated, so I can reuse my essays,” Yan said, noting that she has used the same essay for all schools that ask, ‘Why are you interested in this field of study?’

Senior Daniel Sun, Sophie Sun’s twin brother, found that writing essays was time-consuming, but not necessarily stressful. For him, an applicant to 10 schools, actually generating the list of colleges was most difficult.

“Picking the schools actually has a huge impact on your future,” he said.
Daniel Sun’s first-choice school is Duke University, he said, and he applied there early decision, which means he was awaiting an admission notification as of press time. For him, the campus was the major deciding factor.

“Honestly, I just thought Duke was really pretty. I like their buildings. It was stressful because online all schools look pretty,” he said.

Acceptance or rejection notices also generate their fair share of stress.
Guidance counselors John Komosa and Emanda Lenet have both witnessed the post-rejection state of upset students.

“It’s just like when you get your heart broken,” Komosa said. “You have to get a little distance and a little elevation from it and see that there are other things in life that are positive.”

Lenet agrees, adding that being upset is justifiable, but the college admission system isn’t perfect. Top schools aim to curate a geographically diverse student body, she said.

“They are aware of how many students they are admitting from Baltimore County,” Lenet said. “They can’t admit 1000 students from Baltimore County.”

Recently, the disappointment that accompanied rejection has magnified due to social media’s presence, Lenet and Komosa said.

“It’s not your one friend that knows. Everyone knows,” Lenet said. “It’s too overwhelming.”

“Kids who do get in blow it up. ‘I got into Cornell! I got into Cornell!’ And the kid who didn’t get in feels like their life is ruined although they will probably get into a fine school,” Komosa said.

This pen-and-paper survey of 113 seniors was conducted in selected A1 classes Dec. 12.

Komosa’s and Lenet’s advice to seniors during the time of admissions notices? Stay off social media.In the face of admission decisions, senior Yasmeena Fakhouri, a Fashion Institute of Technology applicant, has resolved to remain optimistic.

“Rejection will bother me, but if it’s not meant to be, then it’s not meant to be,” Fakhouri said. “I put all my heart into their application, but on the bright side, I love all of the other schools I applied to, so I wouldn’t be devastated to go to another school.”

Financial aid can also induce stress. Forms like the Free Application Federal Student Aid and College Scholarship Service Profile require the majority of applicants’ tax return information.
For senior Missy Dee, completing FAFSA became grueling and delayed because she couldn’t locate her father’s tax returns.

“My dad lives half an hour away so it’s not easy for him to drop them off,” she said.

But even after she retrieved the forms, Dee faced issues with the FAFSA system, which notified her that the information she inputted did not match the IRS’s information. She is still troubleshooting this problem, Dee said.
Senior Brennan Manning applied to international universities and dodged such concerns.

“For American schools, you almost sign your life away. You have to fill out six forms, write two essays, and they finally take six different tests just to prove you are eligible to get in,” Manning said. “All I had to do for my international schools was fill out one small form and send my transcript and resume.”

Manning has already been accepted into University of Amsterdam, his dream school, he said.

Senior Zach Swanson, committed to Lenoir-Rhyne for lacrosse, reports little to no stress during application season.

“I was banking on playing lacrosse,” Swanson said. “I had been playing in front of college lacrosse coaches so I had a good amount of options.”

Senior Megan Van Emden had a similar experience, although her early commitment was not related to athletics. Van Emden applied to one school, Eastern University, in early July and was accepted by late July.

“It was really easy. I kind of went around the system,” she said. “My admissions counselor said I could screenshot my SAT scores on my phone and text them to him.”