The Daunting Size of Ivy League Applications

Ivy League Applications: Read any good books lately?

What that question in the above heading really means is: Have you ever seen the size of some of those elite-college applications? If you haven’t, stand by for a reality check.

Even with the “help” of the Common Application, thanks to the insidious add-on work required by the innocently named application “supplements,” the sheer magnitude of the undertaking is why you must adjust your thinking. When we Baby Boomers applied to college, we filled out a few pages of basic information about our schoolwork, activities, and maybe-just maybe-we jotted down a paragraph or two about why we wanted to apply to that particular school. We got a teacher or two to write a good word for the school secretary and we mailed out our transcript. We sent in our ten-dollar application fee and were off to the races. In fact, the process was so relatively simple that we (as in “I” and maybe “your parents”) don’t remember much, if anything, about it. To say that times have changed is a ridiculous understatement. Here’s why:

The typical Ivy League application, complete with its instructions, bound-in return envelopes, mailing labels, “advice” from the admissions staff, and other related goodies, is about the size of the phone book for most cities with populations in the range of 35-50,000. Seriously, if you’ve not seen one of these beauties before, you’ll think that Penn or Brown sent you a copy of their annual report instead of an application for admission. Once you recover from the sheer visual impact, you can start to attack the instructions.

“Which,” you may be saying with a hearty sneer, “is why I prefer to apply online.” Hey, now that’s not a bad idea, if you’re into computers and all that. No messy paperwork, huh? Well, I’m going to go on record here with my open, naked prejudice against electronic applications. Yeah, yeah, I’ve read all the admission folks’ magnanimous statements about how they prefer electronic apps (“We encourage them!”) and that everything ends up being scanned into the system anyhow. Well, fine and dandy.

However, I’m a survivor of three decades of marketing wars and, even in this day of dazzling digital dexterities, I still believe that the best way to strut your stuff is on the actual paper forms of the traditional application. After all, if these schools were really serious about electronic applications, they would stop printing the paper ones and make everyone apply by computer, right? I’m not going to get into a big thing here about which way to go with your application, but my experience in working with many successful elite-college applicants over the years has shown me that the paper route, so to speak, is the way to go.