Applying to college in the digital age

It’s that time of the year again. No more agonizing over personal statements, GPAs and SAT scores. The applications are in. Our high school seniors await the inevitable.

“Congratulations …”

“We regret to inform you …”

“We’d like to offer you a spot on our waitlist …”

But the college application process looks very different for the class of 2020 than for our parents. The Common Application enables us to apply to nearly 900 universities with a few clicks. No need to drive to your top-choice schools for a long weekend. Most campus tours can now be attended virtually. The dreaded march to your guidance counselor’s office to sit down with a relative stranger and listen to them opine about what you should be and where you should go is over. We construct our college lists by taking Buzzfeed quizzes, watching students’ vlogs and asking anonymous “digital natives” to estimate our likelihood of acceptance.

This fundamental recalibration of the way we apply to, hear back from, interact with and learn about colleges has its pros and cons.

It’s as simple as the difference between push and pull. Universities once marketed to students by pushing information via snail mail. Our main source of contact was a brochure featuring a diverse group of students smiling on the lawn. Now, we pull what we want to know from who we want to hear it from. We receive unfiltered, unfettered and unprecedented access to what the college experience is actually like.

What used to be so personal—pulling an envelope from the mailbox to open your decision letter in isolation—has now become public. Acceptance or not, there’s a network of people experiencing the same thing.

However, constant exposure to an online community of our “competition” comes with a great deal of anxiety about the process and its outcomes. Students can easily spend hours on College Confidential message boards comparing themselves to strangers. We’re no longer left guessing who is vying for a spot at our dream school. The answer is right in front of us, and this knowledge can add a lot of stress to an already taxing endeavor.

Whether you choose to post your decision reaction or keep it private, visit or vlog, interview face-to-face or Facetime, the process has undoubtedly taken on a new form. Even with all that has changed, the mission remains the same: to find the right school, the right feeling and the right fit.


Zoe Simon is a senior at Wood River High School. Her column “Student Perspectives” will appear in this space monthly. This is her first column for the Idaho Mountain Express.

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