College application crunch

Well, that was an intense few days.

Those of you with kids who have been through the college process don’t have to read any further. This will probably just bring back bad memories and raise your blood pressure. Those of you without college-age kids? Here’s a glimpse into life in the app lane.

My daughter is applying early decision to a university with a film school that she really wants to attend. Regular college application deadlines are mostly either Dec 1st or Jan 1st, but early decision applications are due by Nov. 1st.

Photo by Justin Ide / Harvard University News Office

For the past four days, she’s done pretty much nothing except this application. (Well, okay, she did go to one dance and one Halloween party over the weekend.) And that’s after working on it off-and-on for the past month.

Here’s what was involved:

  • Main application, called the Common App, since most universities let you file a single version of it online. This required a one-paragraph essay about an extracurricular experience, and a long essay (The Personal Essay, thought of by high school seniors with capitals just like we capitalize the name of God or Godzilla) on a major life experience, or ethical dilemma, or person who influenced you etc. etc.
  • Supplemental application for this particular university — three more short essays.
  • Supplement to the supplemental application, this one specifically for the film program with four more parts — a creative resume, a statement about her philosophy of collaboration, a creative work sample such as a short film clip or storyboard or portfolio of drawings, and a dramatic autobiographical short story of up to four pages aimed at showing her ability to be a “visual storyteller.”


Daughter has been pretty organized about all of this. I helped her make a checklist and schedule earlier in the fall, and she more or less kept to it. But not surprisingly, the final stretch ended up being a killer anyway.

So all weekend she was working, and I was lurking and nagging and generally raising her stress level (an important motherly task). And then Sunday afternoon it reached a crescendo where she was trying to draw eight more images for her storyboard, and I was scanning them in to a PDF for her, and she was trying to finish her dramatic story, and I was proofreading it for her, and she was inputting data into the online application sites, and we were both trying to find an ID Number that is required on one of the forms but did not appear to exist anywhere, and also trying to keep track of which essays were inputted and which ones were still being written, and then we had to photograph a bunch of jewelry pieces she’d created for her portfolio submission, and where was the glue stick to fix up a mistake in one of the storyboard images?

Oh — and she had forty pages of history reading for homework too.

On the bright side, by 9:30 pm on Sunday the application was essentially done and she could start on homework. There were 24 hours left until the actual deadline, which meant she could have fun on Halloween evening. Her essays are engaging, revealing and actually written by her (as opposed to written by mom, the guidance counselor or a hired gun). And it’s interesting what you can learn about your own kid — things they will tell an abstract and anonymous admissions staffer that they have never told you.

I’m hoping the next few applications will be easier. But the UC system, for one, doesn’t use the common app so she will have an entirely new Personal Essay to write for them.

I think what’s hardest for me in all this is that I can’t do the work for her. I hang around, aware of the time ticking past, watching her work with less-than-adult efficiency, and think, “I could bang this whole thing out in about an hour and a half.” After all, it’s writing on deadline. It’s what I’ve done for twenty-plus years.

But of course I can’t do it for her. I don’t even really edit her stuff. I correct typos and grammar, but I don’t tell her how to write.  I walk on eggshells — if I get too directive she will get into a huff and storm off. Let her figure things out on her own. Don’t try to make her into some younger version of yourself. Don’t scare her off of writing by being too intense or judgmental about it.

The upshot is that the thing I’m best at in the world, I avoid trying to teach her.


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8 Responses to “College application crunch”

  1. Nicholas Says:

    Yep. Sounds familiar. Three times!

    Congrats on getting it done!

    (Love the scarecrow (scarebanker?)

  2. Foodie McBody Says:

    She was way ahead of someone else I know.

  3. Yonit Says:

    mmm sounds oh so familiar, but i was actually not privy to essays at all. i was told about topic choices…the editing and sharing was done with a few friends and an advisor. no parental involvement requested. she did an amazing job of being on time and finished on sunday night. now we wait…i am proud and cant believe my baby will be 18 tomorrow and in college next year. gevalt…

  4. bratschegirl Says:

    Yep, the blood pressure rose just from the memories.

  5. Janice Dean Says:

    As with many of your posts, it is so interesting to hear about this from the parent’s perspective. It sounds to me like you did a great job, and this very-independent-as-a-teenager appreciates the self-awareness you showed in providing support without overbearing direction of content or task completion strategy. /high five!

  6. Dr. StrangeCollege Says:

    I do love this. Our son was trying to get early apps in by mid-October (one of the colleges recommended this, which we only saw in late September; had been working against a Nov 1 deadline). Yes to the walking on eggshells, yes to the helping with the grammar and proofreading, but they have to write and edit it themselves. Yes to the “I can’t do it for her.” Good luck to both of you with the rest of her apps.

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