College application process falls short of potential

If you, your kid, grandkid or friend will apply to college, I need your help.

Our oldest just went through the process. In the months leading up to it, friends told me, “Oh, it’s so much easier these days, with a single common application for all schools, so your daughter won’t have to write different essays for each school. As for financial aid, there’s a common application online, accessed by all the schools. Thank God for the Internet.”

I remember the trappings of when I applied: fill-in-the-blank paper forms, typewriters, correction fluid, postage and stress. I was thrilled to hear of a better way. But then I learned the truth.

Sure, there is a common application, but many schools, in their arrogance, feel compelled to insist upon supplemental essays. I guess their admissions people possess elevated levels of discernment only tapped into with questions like, “If you had the gift of telepathy — the ability to read other people’s minds — would you use this gift or not? Explain.” Real question. Apparently, this university assumes applicants are bright enough to respond to this nonsense, but too stupid to look up telepathy in the dictionary.

Here’s my message to such “exception-ill” schools: Get over yourselves. Skype the other schools — even the commoners with their common ways and common applications — hash out a common set of essay questions and stick with them like a SALT treaty.

To make matters worse, the arrogance has spread from admissions to financial aid. I had harbored delusions of a single universal form. I would only have to endure one brutal episode rummaging for hours through bank statements and 401(k) and tax records. But by our latest count, there are at least four so-called common ways to share financial data across multiple schools.

Of course, some financial aid administrators avoid the playground frequented by kids from the public side of town by requiring their own form. To them I say, “Do you really have a unique way to ask ‘How much money you got?’ and a one-of-a-kind method for interpreting the response?”

Interestingly, some of these same prigs request documentation by fax (typically shown next to a photo of a smiling applicant with pencil poised over paper; sorry, but no one smiles over a financial aid application). One school instructed, “Set the BAUD rate of the fax machine to 9600 bps.” I can’t help but imagine a June Cleaver look-alike feeding carbon paper into her typewriter in a dim basement office.

I’ve avoided complaining about schools by name because I don’t want them to get steamed and shred my daughter’s application. But then again, most are out of state and haven’t discovered the Internet, so how would they read this?

Let’s end on a positive note with Colorado State University, a shining example. To apply for admission, one need only complete the official Common Application, with no supplemental essays like “Can a toad hear? Prove it.” Yes, that one’s for real (Bennington College). For CSU financial aid, one completes only the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), nothing more. Let’s hear it for the home team.

As for that help I requested, when a school insists upon ridiculous exceptions, just say no. America has 4,500 colleges and universities. Just move on down the list.

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