College Applications: Then and Now


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Blank college application on a desktop. Artwork created by the photographer.

Maria Menjivar, Staff Writer

Come high school, all that most people are thinking about is college. These days, most of us apply through the CommonApp online, which includes teacher recommendations and personal essays submitted through the internet. We probably don’t think much about how the college process has changed in the past several years; however, applying to colleges was drastically different not too long ago when our parents were going through this process. Even though it may seem simpler to have all of the important documents in one place online, in reality, there are so many more components that create more stress for students applying to college in today’s world.


Taking into consideration the variation of college applications between students under different circumstances, according to someone I interviewed who applied to college in the 1990s, the process only took about a month overall. The main difference to note between these time periods is how applications were submitted. Basically, before 2007, which is when the CommonApp launched, everything was filled out on paper applications sent through the mail. This included the personal essays and supplements that we are all familiar with. Then, the high school would send your transcripts to the colleges and universities you requested and the testing companies would send your scores the same way. It all seems simple because there was no website where you could keep clicking different links and tabs that allowed for so many different variations of the application you are applying with. In general, it was a pretty straightforward process to follow.


This same person only applied to one college because she, basically, had guaranteed admission. Therefore, different students will have experienced different levels of stress depending on how much they put on their plate, which is similar to today’s standards. However, nowadays students are generally expected to apply to a load of colleges where several years ago it was only a few. It is common for students to receive several lectures to apply to several safety schools, several medium schools, and several reach schools. All of that can really add up. Even if you’re not applying to ten colleges, the entire process, which takes several months overall, can be very stressful. Being told that your future rides on a few essays can be overwhelming. However, it really comes down to the big picture of how you spent your high school career and how you showcase that in your application and writing. 


Everything, including the college application process, seems to get more complicated each year. Students in this day and age seem even more stressed than ever and college applications are a huge part of that stresser. Students are constantly being pushed to the limit of their abilities and it is difficult to tell whether that is helping or hurting them. Overall, it is important to remember that students many years ago were able to succeed just as well academically and apply for the colleges of their choice with significantly less stress put on them. As a society, we must only push students in a healthy manner towards their personal and professional goals, rather than overloading them with the stress of applying to too many colleges.