Personal Archaeology 19: Applied

I’m helping my seniors with their Common Application essays in my AP Lit class. This is, I fully admit, one of my favorite things about the beginning of the school year. It’s an assignment that helps me get to know them but also lets me put on my editor’s hat and really teach the craft of writing (as opposed to their literary analysis papers where I want to see what they can do re: the works we read). I think, in some way, it also helps me make up for the rather terrible college essay I wrote during my senior year.

I first mentioned applying to colleges in a journal entry that is dated September 18, 1994. I apparently had seen plans with my friend Catherine (on whom I had a major crush … which is pretty much the story of my entire adolescence*) fall through and felt like “renting a movie, sitting down, and rifling through college junk.” I didn’t write down what movie I watched (probably Reality Bites), but I did write downt he schools I settled on:

  • Dartmouth
  • Colgate or Brown
  • Syracuse
  • Michigan State
  • Rhode Island
  • USC
  • Loyola Maryland

I would apply to all of those schools except for Brown, which I probably should have applied to but got turned off by an offhand comment from my dad about applying to where my friend was going. I’d eventually add two more–SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Binghamton. Beyond that, I didn’t write about applying to college until November 8, when I mentioned that I was filling out applications and had an interview with Dartmouth later that week.

Now, those in my late Generation X cohort will understand applying to nine colleges back in 1994 was insane. Those reading this who are younger might shrug at that because they are used to filling out the Common Application online and have web-based services such as Naviance to help manage letters of recommendation, transcripts, and the other necessary paperwork that goes with the application process. I did all this prior to the Common Applicationa nd online applications, so I typed up every one of the forms on a Smith Corona typewriter.

I also wrote more than one essay, as a number of those colleges had their own questions, although I was able to repurpose one or two. Most of the prompts and subsequent essays are lost to me, but the one I wrote for my Dartmouth application, as Dartmouth was the only one that I didn’t get into. The question was nonexistent–we had to make up our own, which is definitely the type of pseudo-intellectual pretentious crap you’d expect from an Ivy League school. Now, you would be right in suggesting that I should have grabbed another essay I wrote and crafted a question around that. But my brain didn’t work like that back then, and I went through a terrible case of paralysis because i was under the impression that I had to be absolutely creative and wow the committee with my cleverness. I guess it didn’t also help that I was going through an “everything around me is bullshit” phase, so all of my early drafts were Holden Caulfield-esque whining combined with self-flagellation, and it took my creative writing teacher (who’d also taught me in English 10), Mrs. Taber to snap me out of it.

Now, I have friends who couldn’t stand Mrs. Taber, but she was one of my favorites in high school and one of the few people I felt I could trust to be honest with me about what I was writing. So I didn’t flinch whens he rejected my ramblings of self-hate. She knew that there was no way any college would let me in if I wrote about how much I didn’t matter. I also think she was (or at least I hope she was) aware that I was obviously going through something emotional–depression or anxiety, perhaps–and cared about me. Then, one weekend morning, I woke up and wrote down a fictional conversation between myself and my friend that was about how nice of a person an dhow good of a friend I was.

Looking back, it was the writing exercise I needed to do. My mind was occupied by three things that made me feel like complete shit: a tough class load that I was trying to balance with a job, girls not noticing me or friendzoning me, and my adolescent existential crisis. A few pages of back and forth ego indulgence that was also good dialogue practice helped me out of that particular spiral. But turning it into the essay I submitted to Dartmouth without including something about how I would be the type of student they wanted on campus was an incredibly dumb idea, even if I thought it was clever. Maybe Mrs. Taber thought it was exactly what I should submit because she was tired of me, ro maybe she actually saw something unique out of someone who had spent much of the first few weeks of school complaining that he wasn’t unique. Regardless, I sent it on its way.

I didn’t save the essay, so I cannot post it, and the remainder of my senior year journal doesn’t give much coverage to my college search. I recapped a couple of visits and then made note of where i got in before ultimately choosing Loyola College in Maryland, a decision I have been conflicted with over the years (which is a ramble for another time). In hindsight, I was way too immature to go away on my own and was also way too inexperienced with life. What I would have done with a gap year, I don’t know and I can’t spend too much time on said regrets, but it’s sometimes hard to look at this senior year journal and wonder if I wasn’t ready for the future.

*To this day, Catherine is one of a small number of people whom I have not been able to reconnect with on social media or even find via Google.

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