The Y Files: A senior nightmare: college apps | September 5, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - September 5, 2008

The Y Files: A senior nightmare: college apps

by Maria Shen

Ah, college. There's nothing like bringing up this topic among high school seniors during "College App Season." It's such a headache that it makes some of us want to jump off a cliff. But, not everyone feels this way; some students are very calm about the whole process. Of course, I've yet to meet one. Nevertheless, I'm sure they're out there ... somewhere.

Thanks to the Common Application, high school seniors everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. One application for all private schools? Hell, yes. But, there's a catch. First of all, it's hardly for every school out there (though if we wish hard enough, maybe it'll come true for later generations) and, second of all, each independent school has its own supplement. By supplement, I mean one long essay and several short questions.

I've been told by the old and the wise (read: college freshmen) that writing the college essay is not the hard part. It's editing the thing. We have 500 words, sometimes 800 words, to describe our background, who we are, and what we set out to achieve. Never mind the fact that some people search their whole lives to find the meaning and method of his or her existence. What I, personally, feel is unfair is the word limit. I understand that, with so many applications, it's difficult for admissions officers to go through each person. American children have grown up being taught that each one of us is a "beautiful and unique snowflake." Colleges ask this: Tell us in two pages just what kind of snowflake you are; we'll be the judge of your beauty and uniqueness.

I'm telling you - this is more nerve-wrecking than meeting St. Peter at heaven's gates. I mean, I can't help it. How can colleges distinguish between who is more worthy? Is it the guy who's insanely good at playing the piano, or the girl who can recite pi to the 64th decimal ... backwards?

Here's what I personally find amusing. On previous college applications and current ones, this question has made appearances: What do you do to rejuvenate yourself?

Well, now that I've gone through painful agony tearing my hair out, trying to answer this question, I think I'll go take a nap. Because, frankly, there's nothing more rejuvenating after fretting over college apps. Don't talk to me about going to a museum, or having a political discussion among friends. Sure, I like to do those things to relax - but who has the energy, really? College applications are draining.

The college application is not supposed to be this stressful. It's supposed to be a simple process to tell colleges who you are. But, gradually, it has turned into "who's the best person I can be?" And, for some who employ college counselors, the question is, "who's the best person a paid professional can make me?"

Indeed, employing college counselors has become a pricey trend. Parents shell out thousands of dollars so that their sons and daughters can have someone hold their hand through the college application. Actually, it's more than that. It's gaining a competitive edge over their peers. Or, at least, it used to be able to get you a competitive edge.

A general teen phenomenon these days is getting the college counselor. Did I already mention that it's expensive? Because it is. The money figures are ridiculous - and for what? So someone can edit your essays and package you. It's like professional photoshop for students.

Frankly, I think our flaws are what make us beautiful and unique. Sure, it's corny, but - hey - I stick to what I learned in kindergarten. Mrs. K was right, just like she was right about the detriments of swallowing Elmer's glue - be who you are because everyone's a snowflake. And if colleges can't recognize that ... then ... well ...

I'll tell you how I feel once my rejection letters come rolling in.

Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School who loves ice cream on sunny days, books on rainy ones, and music for all those in between. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at