Isn’t it Just Peachy

The convoluted details hidden in the depths of college applications


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Emma Li, Co Editor-in-Chief

Spending time in high school doing five different activities on top of honors and AP classes is only sustainable in the long term to a small population. Thinking about doing two sports, at least three shows and hours of homework every year for another four years would probably be the reason I become a college drop out, but without the Steve Jobs success story. Adding college work on top of my objectively unhealthy workaholism would for sure lead to coffee addiction, and I do not have the income to support that. 


Participating in sports in high school can help a person get ahead in resumes, recruitments or scholarships. Not all schools require a resume, but the Common App does include a list of activities which can apparently include hobbies. Scholarships are only if you’re extraordinary, which I have no experience in in the realm of sports.

I had absolutely no idea I’d be recruited by anyone, anywhere. As a solid JV cross country runner up until this year, I was rather surprised to receive a letter of recruitment from a Division III school that I was actually looking at academically. Division III is the lowest category, but many schools still provide free snacks and spirit wear since sports are the gateway for many people to learn about schools. It’s a small investment for free publicity and manual labor. Division I and II will even provide free meals since they are making money off of college sports. 


If you don’t want advice from a theatre kid, this is your time to run. (Although I might be able to keep up.) 

I’m at the crossroads of visual and performing arts where I get the best and worst of both worlds. For visual arts, such as drawing, photography, sculpture or fashion, someone can apply academically and only need a portfolio for scholarships or just apply with a portfolio. For performing arts, the same applies but with an audition for music, dance or monologues. 

A portfolio, according to me, is a collection of your best work that is a living document of how you think creatively. It can be paper, digital or both, and a student accepted into a program I’m interested in told me once that if you’re doing a slideshow, don’t have more than 25 slides. Most schools want a pdf because that is apparently more professional. If you’re submitting as an addendum since some schools will let you submit a portfolio to consider in addition to your application, sort of like an optional supplemental essay, you can put a lot of things into one pdf and that will count as one thing. The reason why I think this is important information is because most websites will ask for five things. As someone who makes a lot of stuff, five is not very many. 

General Portfolio Tips

  1. Some say go chronologically from most recent and go backwards, some say just put the best first and others say save the best for last. I did a combination of my best and most recent first because I know how judgy people can be, and these people are paid to be judgy. This is just what I did because I know I have to talk about my portfolio, and I’d rather start with something I’m excited about and worked on recently. Obviously don’t end with something bad. Everything in my portfolio is something I’m proud of or learned something from messing up. 
  2. A portfolio should speak for itself. I put a lot of words on my portfolio because I spend a lot of time on research and organization, and I need whoever is looking at it to know the hours I’ve put in because that is part of my process. 
  3. Take nice pictures. I struggled with this because I had to find time during the day with good natural light to take pictures of my stuff for the digital portfolio. Just take nice pictures, and don’t skimp on that because that is so important. 
  4. Everything in my portfolio is something I can talk about. I am excited about everything there, and I can be a nerd about my research, decisions, how I had to compromise in reality and everything that most people don’t want to hear about. It’s important to check how long the school’s portfolio review is. It can be as short as 20 minutes to as long as three hours.
  5. Have people look over it. Professionals, teachers, etc. 
  6. Some schools will want a portfolio, a theatre resume and an essay. Just when I thought I was done with essays. 

Deadlines become more important when you have to submit a portfolio or audition. People who make portfolios and audition tapes and practice for explaining a portfolio or performing in a live audition take a lot of time to get that perfect, not to mention the time to make it in the first place. Some schools will require you to be accepted academically first before proceeding with the portfolio review or audition process, because that is more time for them, too. Other schools have so many applicants that you have to prepare all of that after submitting, and you don’t even know if you’re in yet. So, submit early. 

Part of the reason why I pretended all of my deadlines were Nov. 1 is because of portfolios. I wasn’t sure over summer which schools I actually needed to submit materials to since the rules can look really convoluted on different websites, so that is why. I realized in late Oct. that I would not be able to do this because I thought one school had a supplemental with a 250 word count, when it was in fact not 250. The real regular decision deadline is Jan. 15, so I’m fine procrastinating since I don’t need to worry about a portfolio for that school. 

Types of Applications

Early Decision (ED) is committing to one school, and one person can only ED to one school. That deadline tends to be early, hence the name. Some schools will have two ED deadlines. In signing the contract, that person agrees to go to that school if they are accepted no matter what. I think of this type of school as a school I would die for and I can completely afford even if they gave my family no aid in the financial aid package. No school fits that for me, so I am not ED-ing. 

Early Action (EA) is applying early, but without the commitment. Like ED, there is an earlier deadline, but some schools will have multiple EA deadlines as well. Unlike ED, applicants can apply to multiple schools as EA applicants, except for certain cases of restrictive EA. 

I submitted to all the schools I could EA, since not every school has EA. I checked that they’re not restrictive, and that was it. 

Regular Decision is unlimited with no contract, and you get your results between February and March. This is just everyone else. These have a later deadline, which can be as late as Feb. 1. 

So, if someone applies to one school ED by Nov. 1 and gets declined or waitlisted in Dec. or Jan., they still have a month or so to apply to other schools. 

Rolling Admissions are always open. Some don’t close until July. 


Fill one or both out with a family member, it makes everything easier. Also maybe wait a few days after Oct. 1 to fill them out because the websites can get really shaky with so many people trying to get on in one day. The FAFSA is most common, but some schools only accept CSS. The CSS took forever for me to fill out. Also the rule of thumb I used is that if it asked for something I’ve never heard of, the amount is $0. 

Deadlines and Actually Submitting

So I submitted to schools. The Common App does the same thing that Khan Academy does when you get 100% on an assignment and confetti flies across the screen. But instead of the happy noise that Khan Academy makes, the Common App is just existential dread. 

I submitted to schools in spurts. There were two days sometime in Sept. where I submitted the ones that just wanted my Common App essay, and another day in Oct. once I finished my supplementals for the others that wanted those. There will probably be another day over winter break for the last one, whenever I fix the essay. 

Submitting isn’t that glamorous. It’s like you can’t take it back once it’s in. 

Honors College

So right when I think I’m done with submitting to schools, there’s a fun thing called an Honors College that provides more interesting classes and allows a person to continue living in what I call the honors/AP class kid bubble. 

One supplemental essay. Three portfolios. 15 schools submitted. One procrastinating.

Fruit Salad of Other Possibilities:

Senior Sarah Moll has already been accepted into Bradley University, where she plans to study nursing. 

“I’ve always wanted to go into the medical field,” Moll said. “I really love taking care of people. I love health and anatomy, and I’ll always have a job.”

Moll’s other interests include singing and dancing, and has had extensive experience performing in live theatre. 

“I kind of always knew the reality of being a theater major, ever since I started getting into it,” Moll said. “I love performing. So, I would talk to my parents about it, or do research on it. It’s rewarding, and it would be so fun if you could do it, but the likelihood of actually being able to do it is significantly low. And I kind of knew that I would be really anxious and I would not be happy knowing that I would have to work so hard just to get a barely paying job.”

Moll came to this decision with knowledge of what she was walking away from, including the work that starts years before most students even begin to think about college. 

“If you want to be successful, you need to start going towards very competitive and well known dance companies, theaters, voice trainers and acting lessons, because you will get connections there,” Moll said. “You will get proper learning and training, and it will look very good on your resume.”

Moll accredits the relief from knowing that the foreseeable future is set to the counselors at PCH who helped set a steady pace. Undoubtedly, going into college applications with a clear idea of what Moll wanted helped speed up the process.

“You have to find that balance of loving your passion, but also knowing what’s best for you,” Moll said.


Senior Ella Penico is applying to 25 schools since her intended major typically accepts one out of every 18 schools a prospective student applies for. Since audition materials, which include monologues, singing and dance videos need to go in by early fall, general applications are pushed back even earlier. 

“Before you can audition for a school, you need to apply academically,” Penico said. “Once you submit your application, you don’t need to be accepted quite yet. But that opens the doors for you to submit your pre screens, which is basically the pre audition where they make sure that you’re good enough to be auditioning anyways. They don’t want you traveling 1000 miles to their schools for the in person audition if you have no chance of making it.”

In order to be ready this early, Penico had all of her essays ready by October in order to have enough time to learn the material and record it well. 

“Even though it’s going to cost more money, get private instructors that are going to be able to record things for you and are going to be able to give you feedback,” Penico said. “I wouldn’t suggest jumping in blind and picking out a monologue that might not suit you. Because at first I picked out all my own monologues and I was like these are great. Then, I had a professional look at them, and they were like, you should not audition with these. And if I didn’t have that help, I would have gone in and probably been in big trouble.”

Most people generally limit their college list to no more than ten schools because of application fees and time spent on applications. Applying to a specific, competitive major means much more than the extra fees to send ACT scores, which are irritating in and of itself. 

“It’s costing a ridiculous amount of money,” Penico said. “There’s a fee to send in your pre screens, which I did not realize. So Penn State costs $30 to submit my pre screens, which is just five videos of me singing and dancing. You’d think it’d take them like five minutes to look at those, but it costs $30. Point Park, which is a really good one and Pittsburgh: it was $110 for my pre screens, not including the application fee, and that was a lot too.”

The performing arts are generally extremely exclusive, which starts at a young age in the race of who can afford to take the classes to get the training and get the time and transportation for the long hours, on top of the competition inherent to performance. 

“I’m lucky enough to apply to musical theater in general,” Penico said. “If I was not nearly as privileged, I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dreams, which is the sad reality of theater that it’s still so privileged.” 

The pay itself is a looming question for anyone interested in the arts. 

“My junior year, I was kind of like, no, I want to have at least some money to survive,” Penico said. “I was sort of leaning towards the sciences, like chemistry or biology, and then I just slowly realized that like being on stage is really what I want to do. It’s so gratifying for me. It makes me so happy. And I think doing that for the rest of my life would be incredible.”


Senior Ted Herrell is applying to five schools for technical theatre, which is a shift for someone who primarily acts. Herrell had some insecurities about navigating the convoluted process of college applications, in addition to applying for a specific major. 

“I don’t know if I’m one to give advice on this type of thing,” Herrell said. “I feel like I’ve been kind of not as on top of it as most people seem to be. There’s a lot of things that I don’t know if I’m doing this right. Or, I don’t know if there’s a better way to go about it.”

Herrell has had experience in community theatre, and has used his connections there. The Gateway Center of Performing Arts (GCPA) director has experience sending teens to theatre programs, and is an available resource. Additionally, it was the GCPA community that allowed Herrell to explore technical theatre in addition to performance. 

“Ever since I like started doing theater, I thought that I would go to school to learn how to do the performance side of things,” Herrell said. “But I’ve always kind of been versatile in the sense that I like to get hands on experience wherever I can and try everything out. When I was doing a lot of tech stuff over the summer and in past years, I just realized that like I really like it just as much as I like doing onstage stuff. I feel like I’m just gonna really have a good time studying it in college.”

Like most, Herrell had considered taking a more traditional career path. 

“There was like, a point where I was like, ‘maybe I should just study business and do art on the said,’” Herrell said. “Then, I kind of realized that that’s not really going to set up a happy experience for me. I want to have a good college experience where I’m studying something I’m genuinely interested in.”