The Problem with The Common Application

Jan 31, 2010

I’m applying to college for Fall this year. Or rather, I have applied, now I’m waiting to see if I get in. But before you dismiss this post as a purely personal one and leave, just give me a minute, there is a larger point I want to make.

Most colleges today use the Common Application. For those of you who do not know, the Common Application is basically an undergraduate application system that allows students to fill up a certain online form, and apply to various schools with that same form. It makes application more effective, as students only need to fill up one form, and can have it sent to a number of different schools.

I appreciate the effectiveness of the application format. The problem, though, in my opinion, is when schools take that as the only way to apply. By doing that, they’re forcing all students to fit into that one template, and in my opinion, it takes away any individuality from the student. A college application, in my opinion, is not much different from a job application. The application (your recommendations, transcripts, etc) are like your resume – it’s a reflection of who you are, an extension of your identity. By forcefitting all applicants into the same format, schools are taking away any option for creative expression.

Imagine if, when you apply for a job, the company requires your resume to be in a fixed format. That doesn’t quite fly, does it? Yes, they might have personal particulars forms which they need you to fill up, but the bulk of your job application – your resume – is your own. It’s up to you to create. That’s why you have so many creative and unique resumes (and a quick search on google will turn up even more).

Why should college applications limit students to that one plain bland format? Sure, give a personal information form for administrative purposes if you need. And yes, definitely, offer the Common Application as an option, because most students will just use it anyway for ease of application. But give students the option of standing out and letting their personality shine through their application, if they are willing to put in the work to create such an application. Don’t limit students and take away any option for remarkableness. Students are unique individuals too.

So, all that said, here’s the personal part which you can skip over if you’re not too interested – my application. While I initially wanted to do something like a box, a 3-dimensional application that was interactive, and could be felt and handled, I realized that I’d be better served doing an application which could be filed away (because that’s what the school is going to do anyway) and still maintain its uniqueness and impact. So here’s what I did.

Basically, I bought a folder, and made 4 A6-sized booklets, which each summarized a different portion of my life. You can download the pdfs to see what I put into the b0oklets, if you wish – about me, activities, academics, appraisals. On the right, I inserted the necessary supporting documents and essays, with a note detailing the different sections. On top of the whole application, I attached a cover letter explaining my application, acknowledging that their website requests for application to be done via the Common App, but stating my objection to that (basically my argument above), and explaining that as such, I had done up my own application.

In essence, I included all the information they required, but in my own format. It’ll be interesting to see which schools accept the application. And yes, I know, it might seem a bit self-indulgent. But I think if I really believe that the Common App falls short, I should be willing to take a stand on it. I’ve always been about being your own person, standing by your beliefs, and being unique. And I figured I needed to really let that show through my application – to really “let my true colors shine through”, if you will.

So yeah, all that said. What do you think? Am I being too stubborn and self-indulgent here? Or is it a good thing that I’m trying to stand out and stand by my beliefs?

Pixelated – Sui Generis Conference

Oct 7, 2008

Mitch Joel recently started the Pixelated Conference, a free business conference you can watch from anywhere. Chris Brogan took the idea one step further, encouraging all of us to create our own Pixelated Conferences.

I think it’s a really good series. So here’s mine. The Pixelated – Sui Generis Conference. 7 sessions (in no particular order, because I think you should watch all of them) about being remarkable, following your passions, and changing the world.

If you the videos don’t appear (if you’re reading via RSS, for example), you can check it out here.

And if you like it, feel free to grab the list and share it. Or better yet, make your own and join be part of the series.