Riley Rates: College Applications


Photo used with permission from Google Commons

The Common App is the most widely accepted application in America.

If you’re a senior like me, you know how tedious and stressful the college application process can be. Whether it’s struggling to use Naviance’s convoluted website, looking deep within yourself to write a 500-word personal narrative or praying the teacher you’ve entrusted to write your letter of recommendation didn’t mention the incident to your dream school’s admissions office, the whole thing is an endless cycle of suffering. 

Worst of all, colleges cannot agree on one type of application to standardize, leaving us hopeful scholars to repeat our misery over and over. But if you’ve ever read my column before, you won’t be surprised to hear that I already know all the information you need to get through the college application process. Using my patent-pending Riley Rates 5-Star-System, you’ll know how to deal with every kind of application, so you can save your tears for the rejections.

The Common App (and other universal applications)

Among the rubble of the modern college admissions process, a beacon of hope shines down from the gods: The Common Application. As though created by a high schooler themself, The Common App conveniently strips the classic essay portion of limitation, with the option to write about anything. As long as you aren’t heroically recounting overcoming a devastating ACL tear in high school lax (how brave), or about how lonely COVID-19 made you feel when it stranded you in your North Potomac McMansion, you should be fine. Though the Common App was the first standardized application to become popular, the Coalition and Universal applications are also transferable. More than 900 schools accept the Common App, allowing you to hit many birds with one stone. 5 stars.

School-specific applications (the rest of ‘em)

When a college deems itself as extra special and hip, they create their own application. Barring specialized programs (which I will get into later), this results unnecessarily in extra pain for us poor students. But what really has me scratching my head is the way that most of these “unique” applications are so familiar, they lead me to angrily exclaim, “I Can’t Believe it’s Not the Common App!” One such example is the application for the University of Southern California. It’s pretty much your typical application, aside from some completely useless supplementary “questions.” Unless you’re on the rowing team, you’ll need to answer some head-scratchers such as What is your favorite snack? or If your life had a theme song, what would it be? in 100 words or less. I’m sorry, but I do not see the point of these. Will my pick of the Nacho Cheese Dorito clash with the admission officer’s Cool Ranch consensus? Could the Seinfeld theme touch a nerve if they declare Friends superior? Too much is on the line for us to play these petty mind games. I guess I can’t blame Lori Loughlin. 2 stars.