Common Apples

Fruits of debatable wisdom for the college application process


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Emma Li, Co Editor-in-Chief

From drawing pictures of yourself as a pharmacist to architect to grocery store cashier as an elementary aged kid to hearing your mother introduce yourself to people you’ve never met before as “my daughter Emma, who is applying to college,” knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life is a rather tall order for someone who can neither drive, dance, nor cook. 


Apple Number One:

A lot of people told me last year to use summer to work on college applications, especially if you have essays. I used my summer to ignore junior year burnout and keep overworking myself, including internships, a college program, and a part time job in addition to running every day and coordinating club events. This is “for college,” but remember that the Common App doesn’t require a resume, and gives you up to ten slots to fill for Activities, and up to five for Honors. 


Apple Number Two:

Don’t settle too soon. I reworked my list of schools about three times from May to late July. My list in May is completely different from my list now, and I like my current one a lot more. There are 16 schools on it. This is more than average for a variety of reasons, mainly indecision. My policy is that if I don’t feel like writing the essays, it’s going off. 

Talk to friends with similar academic goals, talk to people involved in the college admissions process, talk to people with your best interests at heart. Things I had to consider that I didn’t hear others telling me all the time were demographics (not every place is as diverse as Parkway Central), weather (think seasonal depression), and walkability (I like running alone, but I don’t want to get kidnapped). 


Apple Number Three:

This is a controversial one, but don’t get too attached. 

The big points are the program, values, and name for people’s dream schools.  

Program: Lots of schools have majors, and lots of schools have qualified professors. At the end of the day, having “the best” isn’t what makes a great student.  

Values: Yale and WashU love to talk about how they’re “and” people and not “or” people. I even got an email from WashU about how “yes, and” comes from improvisation, as if I didn’t already know that. I don’t think they were too pleased with my improvisation of overcoming personal challenges during my virtual interview that I didn’t prepare for. After doing research on a lot of liberal arts schools, a fair number are all about keeping busy, but without the prestige. 

Name: People will hire you if you’re Harvard class of ‘22, but not ‘12. Smaller schools with tighter alumni connections can help you just as much, and are long lasting. 

The long and short of it is that a lot of schools have what you’re looking for. 


Other Orchards

Senior Arya Gijare is applying to 16 schools, with a total of 52 essays, excluding the Common App. 

“I’m applying to public schools early, and applying to my dream school restrictive early action,” Gijare said. 

Multiple essays can be adjusted to fit similar prompts, but schools often write questions such that it is difficult to simply copy paste without changing the word count or direction.

“If it’s asking why the school, then I do a little bit of research about the school,” Gijare said. “Then, I made a list of the things I like about the college.”


Senior Nathan Koons plans to apply to between three and seven schools, with no more than the Common App personal essay. 

“I visited Mizzou, Iowa State, and Illinois State,” Koons said. 

The stress of college applications has undoubtedly reached Koons. 

“It’s just stressful with classes, and that’s on top of it,” Koons said. “Friends help a lot. I’m just talking it out and trying to figure out what we actually want to do and figure out where to go.”


Senior Rachel Harris is applying to five schools, and writing three essays. Already accepted to Kansas University, Harris does not need to use the Common App. 

“I would say take it slow, but don’t forget about it, either,” Harris said. People have tried to do things in one sitting, and it really stresses me out.”

Time management is a huge component of the process. 

“It’s coming up fast,” Harris said. “And school comes up fast.”


Orange Slices of Tips and Regrets:

  • When beginning your college essays, it’s about ideas. Don’t read any essay examples, don’t read the Common App prompts. Practice writing about yourself – it’s different from talking, and keep a list in your notes app. There’s always Prompt Seven, which is to write an essay of your own structure. It should also flow like poetry, so read some of that or watch spoken word videos on YouTube. 
  • College Essay Guy has free tutorials on how to brainstorm, how to write for specific prompts for Ivies and almost-Ivies, and the general “Why Us?” and “Why Major?” prompts for supplementals.
  • For average ACTs and SATs, they’re giving you the middle 50%. So if their ACT range is 28-32, that means 25% of their students have a score below a 28, and 25% of their students have a score above a 32.
  • Don’t make a Common App account until August 1 when all the deadlines, essay prompts with word counts and additional information is up to date.  
  • Make a spreadsheet with deadlines and the number of supplemental essays you need. Sometimes I open up my spreadsheet and stare at it, then close it again. 
  • College interviews: they do these over Zoom and they pay people to be nice to you. It’s a good opportunity to ask questions and force yourself to do research right before so you actually have something to talk about. One of the schools I interviewed with gave me an application waiver because I interviewed with them over summer. From someone who didn’t practice answering interview questions, if you stay still, they’ll think that the connection got cut off and that gives you more time to think. If interviews are too much pressure, if you email an admissions officer and ask to call them or someone in the department you’re interested in, you can ask the questions and let them talk. This also gives you information for supplemental essays. 
  • Proofread others’ essays, but only if you’re both comfortable with it. I proofread my friends’ essays because it’s more fun than writing my own. This helps me to see what real essays can look like from people I actually know, gives me motivation to write my own and see what works and doesn’t work depending on the person and their goals. 
  • Go through all of the tabs in the Common App to fill out the little sections. There’s a lot, so you’ll save time later. 

19 supplementals. Three portfolios. 15 schools. 10 deadlines. 

As the old adage goes: fake it til you make it. 


*Printed copies state nine portfolios – it is, in fact, three.