Ladies and gentlemen, it is near the end of October. That means it is time to begin completing your applications.
Part of it was the repetitiveness. There is only so many times a sentient being can be forced to type their zip code before the brain rebels.
Part of it was my naturally scatter-brained personality. I found it exceedingly difficult to sit at the computer and hack out an application when there were other pressing things I needed to take care of...like, football. Or homecoming. Or the new video game that just came out. Or watching my fingernails grow.
The majority of the reason I was so reluctant, however, was my mother (no offense, mom). As time progressed and my list of target colleges didn't, she became more and more "insistent" that I buckle down and apply. As a mature and wise 17-year-old, this drove me crazy.
"I know, mom! I have plenty of time," I maintained.
Until, suddenly, I didn't.
It was about 8 p.m. and I had just remembered (because my mom reminded me) that it was the final night before the early consideration deadline for the majority of my top-choice schools. Because I "had plenty of time," I had made absolutely no process on a single application. Worse, that meant I hadn't yet completed the required essay for four of my top colleges.
I was struck by that particular brand of panic that makes you feel like crying, laughing, or perhaps running into the street and howling wordlessly at strangers. My brain seemed to shut off completely, especially the part that stores vocabulary (though my repertoire of curse words remained remarkably intact). This made "selling myself" via essay particularly difficult.
"I'm screwed," I whimpered, staring at the imposing blank application on College #1's website. Why did I want to apply here again? Was this the school that emphasized, "a rigorous curriculum built on a strong ethical foundation," or was it the school that focused on "challenging coursework centered on the core values of service and leadership?" Had I visited? Was this the place with the cute tour guide? No. She'd been at that other school with the "top-flight academic programs rooted in a firm sense of social justice" and the scary guy begging for money outside of the cafeteria. Wouldn't it just be easier to scratch this one off the list? I mean, I didn't really want to go here anyway. Right?
"I can't do this," I whined.
Thankfully, my mother is a saint. She kept up a steady stream of encouragement and her trademark "strong" [read: chew-able] coffee, and stayed by my side to proofread four of the five fastest "hail Mary" essays I've ever written (the fifth occurred during my Sophomore year, when I wrote an analysis of dramatic satire in 18th century women's literature—twenty minutes before it was due. Sorry, you had to read that, Professor Anderson...).
"You wrote the same sentence three times," Mom noted as I handed her the hastily printed copy of the third essay.
"I did?" I said, looking at the lines of text as if they were written in cuneiform.
"Have some more coffee," she ordered.
Finally, at 11:52 p.m. I completed the final "quick takes" question on the final application. After spending several minutes wondering what, exactly, the admission department was going to glean from the fact that turkey and gravy is my favorite food, I victoriously clicked "submit" and leaned back in my chair as my computer browser refreshed and began slowly loading the confirmation page.
Except it wasn't a confirmation page. It read: "This page cannot be displayed at this time."
I hastily clicked the "back" button, hoping to return to the application.
It was completely blank.
No quick takes. No embedded essay. No social security number, mailing address, father's occupation, or ethnic background.
In retrospect, I am sure the thirty seconds of slow realization that the entire application was lost drained at least five years of my life. When it finally clicked, I screamed something wordless at the computer, considered throwing it from the window (might have if not for mom), and finally, as my will broke, let my head thump heavily on the keyboard—which dutifully transcribed my first name as "frcvdg."
It turned out the college's server had crashed because of the flurry of students who were in my exact, pitiful situation. It didn't come back online until the next morning. I had missed the early application deadline, which, practical wisdom assured me, meant I might as well have never applied.
I was devastated. And I had no one to blame but myself.
Thankfully, there was a happy end to the story. I got into college. Not only that, I got into the "right" college, and though I suffered several rejections, I was amazed to see that I was accepted by the school whose early decision deadline I had missed. That, my guidance counselor admonished, was a miracle in my situation.
I progressed through college (where several other hard lessons beat the procrastination out of me—see the apology to my professor above), and after graduation eventually lived the supreme irony of working in admission. I became the man behind the dreaded applications (which I realize makes me sound like "the Architect" in Matrix: Reloaded, but sadly my beard is much less luxurious), and working "on the other side" has taught me a few things:
1. My mother is always right.
2. Life is too short to spend it worrying about applying to college. There's a lady or gent just like me reading them on the other side of the internet. We're human, I promise, and we all went through the application process, all those years ago. Because we're human, the vast majority of us didn't enjoy it either, so we get when you're going through—and we really do care about making sure you get into the right school.
3. That being said, do make sure you submit the best possible application. On time. This is for your sake as much as ours. Trust me, you don't want to go through what I did.
4. Applying to college really shouldn't be difficult. Sure, sometimes it's onerous, but the process is actually designed to be as straight-forward as it possibly can be (ours takes about 15 minutes). After all, we don't want to lose qualified applicants because we made them jump through too many hoops.
5. Job applications make college applications seem like a relaxing stroll through a peaceful meadow made of cotton candy and good dreams. Get good at selling yourself. Get really good at it. Then get better.
6. Finally, I now have the benefit of experience to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that every essay I wrote that frantic night was absolute garbage. At admission conferences to this day I often wonder which of my colleagues had to suffer through the essay that used the sensation of choking on an oyster as a metaphor for college readiness. That permanent piece of failure is undoubtedly framed in a break-room somewhere, and the humiliation burns.
...So, don't do that. If you want some help with writing a good essay, check out this post.