• Chris Ream

What Was Your College Application Process Like?


Photo by Burst on Unsplash

I was born on the cusp of two generations. My birth year is sometimes listed as the final year of Generation X, sometimes as the first year of the Millennial generation. It’s all quite confusing. So, when I first heard of the Xennial microgeneration (born between 1977 and 1985), I felt an instant connection. While I’d like to delve into all the quirks of Xennials, the most important thing to know about us is that technology changed rapidly between the time we were children and adults. Xennials had an analog childhood and have been on the front lines of the digital revolution as adults.


As a child, I remember calling friends’ houses on a landline and speaking with their parents before I could speak with them. I remember using a dial-up internet connection (the static and buzz pattern is ingrained on my brain). I remember when Google wasn’t a verb. As an adult, I remember getting my first cell phone my senior year of high school and my first smartphone (a BlackBerry) 10-years later. Technology was changing fast, and we had to adapt or be left behind.


On the surface, my memories of the Xennial generation might seem frivolous and unrelated to anything regarding college admissions. In fact, my generation was on the tipping point of an explosion of applications and the digitalization of the college admission process, all thanks to the Common Application.


When I applied to colleges in 1997, I filled out paper applications and submitted them through the good-old United States Postal Service. The following year (1998), the Common Application first launched their online platform with fewer than 200 member colleges. Currently, the Common App has over 900 member schools from across the United States and 18 countries.


According to a study published by Brandon G. Knight of Brown University and Nathan M. Schiff of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in the National Bureau of Economic Research, colleges experience a 12% jump in applications the first year after joining the Common Application, and a 25% increase in applications over a decade. The Common Application adds dozens of new member colleges yearly. The trends tell the story – with more colleges receiving more applications, the number of total applications, and applications per student, have increased significantly.


Which brings me to my stone age college search – and the power of “Must/Can’t.” I grew up the youngest of three in Austin, Texas. My two sisters went to colleges on the Coasts, but I was more of a homebody – I knew I wanted to stay in state. I also knew I did better with small class sizes, so a midsize or small college would be best for me. That took the University of Texas - Austin off my list, but I LOVED going to Texas athletics growing up, so I was looking for a college with a strong athletics program and school spirit. I pulled out my Fiske Guide, found six colleges that fit most of my criteria to visit, applied to my to favorites early action, and choose TCU, mostly because of their excellent athletics program (I wasn’t disappointed, as my time at TCU lined up with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson).


Was my college search ideal? Not at all. I was fortunate to have watched my sisters going through the process before me and had a sense of what questions to ask. It also helped that I didn’t have 900+ colleges to which I could apply at the click of a button. Clearly, that’s not the case now, and the application process has become much more complicated and potentially overwhelming in the ensuing years.


I do think my search illustrates points where GEC’s guidance can be valuable when it comes to your college search. Our “Must/Can’t” guidance seeks to identify factors that are important to students so that they can pinpoint colleges that match. We help students create a selectively balanced college list that has the right number of colleges for them. We also assist students and families in filtering out the noise and focusing on which schools are best for them - academically, personally, and financially.


I also find my Xennial background is an asset in this work. It allows me to serve as an admissions translator of sorts, where I can relate to parents who experienced college searches much like mine and explain the nuances of the current admissions selection process. Unfortunately, social media’s rapid evolution is another story. I’m not able to explain how TikTok works, but give me some time and I’ll figure it out – it’s what Xennials do best.


Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.


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