When I was a senior in high school, I scoured the handful of books that were available about my college opportunities, handwrote a number of essays, and sent in applications to six colleges. Three were “reach” schools and the other three were schools to which I thought I would be admitted.
Today, the college application process has been completely transformed. A quick search on Amazon for “college application” tools results in more than 5,000 books and resources, and the Common Application, or “Common App” as it’s fondly known, has become the go-to college application process for over a half million high school students every year.
The Common App basically takes the drudgery out of the application process: instead of writing or typing (or word-processing) applications separately, the online system allows students to create one college application and then sends it to as many different colleges the student wants to receive their application, as long as the colleges are members of the Common App. There are a handful of schools who do not accept the Common App, but a great many do. Notable holdouts include USC, which is apparently considering a change because of applicant (and possibly donor-parent?) feedback.
Today’s students apply to many more than the six colleges to which I applied, but with significantly less effort. In fact, students can’t even imagine having to fill out different applications for different colleges – witness a senior’s reaction to the thought in an article in today’s LA Times – “That would be so terrible.”
I visit about a half dozen or so high schools each year to talk to students about my alma mater, Johns Hopkins, and I interview about a dozen students each year. The process has definitely changed since the days of multiple hand-written applications strewn across the room. Of course, in those days, we also waited by the mailbox to see which colleges would send the ‘skinny’ envelope (denial) and which would send the ‘fat’ one (acceptance!). Today’s kids just pull their PDAs out of their pocket and check their e-mail.