The Common App’s Common Map

The college application process can be one of the most stressful, exhilarating, and revealing times of your life (wow, I sound old and cliche). Unfortunately, you have to expose your own vulnerability and let go of all control in the final decision, which is much easier said than done for most people. You must compile all of your life’s accomplishments, neatly organize them into a brief cohesive application, and somehow, some way, live with the end result of someone else’s judgment of your achievements and credentials. And this doesn’t even cover the tip of the iceberg of anxiety, as the final decision of where to go inevitably determines the course of your career and life moving forward. All this to say, the college application process is by no means easy.

Rejection in the college process can feel like this to many applicants.

Now that reading this post or even seeing the phrase Common App has induced a minor crippling panic attack, let me assure you of two things. One, although cliche, the college decision process works for a reason: admissions offices know who will succeed at their respective higher education institutions. No matter what happens, you will end up at the right place for you. Secondly, although it may feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders right now, this process of putting yourself out there is critical to get used to now as you will have to continue to put yourself out there even more in the future. This can prove especially difficult during your more malleable adolescence, when you may lack confidence. Nonetheless, I assure you that you will adjust, acclimate, and learn to do so successfully, especially at a place like Swarthmore.

Apart from the Common App, you will continue to have to take risks and apply to other groups in the future. For many, Swarthmore is not the end of their education and they choose to attend graduate school, trade school, or other educational programs. For others, job applications come next with highly qualified competition and even lower rates of acceptance. Beyond that, employed alumni constantly have to apply for grants, funding, permits, and promotions, which requires a certain level of vulnerability and risk as well. At a Delta Upsilon alumni event, one graduate explained how he had applied to over 250 different positions right out of his PhD program only to get accepted to two. This makes the college application seem like a breeze in comparison. In my own case, this year I have applied to around 100 different internship openings, and while I likely will not even hear back from most, by casting a wide net, I take greater risks but also give myself more options to do something truly meaningful and worthwhile. Without the ability to take the criticism and rejection, this would be impossible.

Apart from the literal comparison of applications, it is just as important to have confidence in your own accomplishments and capabilities in both a professional and personal setting. Your college years are a time to formulate your own perspectives and opinions on the pressing matters in our society, and Swarthmore professors will push you to challenge and defend those adamantly. In the research you do, the clubs you join, the friends you make, and the experiences you maneuver, the spirit of collective intellectual amelioration at Swarthmore will follow you constantly. If this sounds like the atmosphere you would excel in, then Swarthmore is without a doubt the place for you.

A student explains her research.

Even so, no one comes into their collegiate career fully ready to defend a dissertation or engage in frontier research, so this educational experience will prove beneficial to that end. While the classroom experiences and relationships with professors will boost your confidence indirectly, other options are available for students. For instance, at the start of each year, the school offers an optional workshop on embracing failure (which I have seemingly had to do way too often). A highly rigorous and recognized educational institution like Swarthmore tends to draw a successful crowd of students, thirsty to better themselves even further. However, particularly in that fresh adjustment period for new students, most of these successful individuals experience a harsh awakening with their first low grade. Thus, Swarthmore offers workshops like this to give students a better sense of their expectations and how to succeed at a much higher level (as well as navigating the pass/fail semester).

A workshop on failure and risk-taking to maximize your collegiate experience at Swarthmore

There seems to be a recurring trend of what is often called “imposter syndrome,” where you feel as though your own understanding of material in a class does not even closely match up with that of your colleagues. Keep in mind that we all are in the same boat on this one, and quite frankly, no student is that much better than the other here. We all deserve to be here, and all have the capability to succeed not only here but for the rest of our lives if we apply ourselves. This accounts for Swarthmore’s lack of extreme competition commonly found at other schools.

The need for confidence extends to your personal life at Swarthmore, where your relationships with professors, friends, and colleagues will require you to reach out, open up, and potentially humble yourself to be able to learn. These relationships have proven for me to be the most valuable asset that Swarthmore offers—other than the education of course—and will serve you well in your life ahead. Friendships or even potential romantic interests require vulnerability and confidence to be able to handle rejection and the highs or lows of that relationship. In the end, the Common App will help your love life; there’s a good hot take to pull out on your next date.


All jokes aside, unfortunately, you will have to face the risk of rejection day in and day out for the rest of your life. Although the Common App may seem like “the most important decision that you will never make,” you will get through this. I hope you are able to face whatever happens with confidence in your own abilities. It will serve you well for the rest of your life. Remember: Swarthmore accepts the students that will contribute the most to the community and be most successful at this unique place. If you are rejected, it is not a reflection of your efforts, intelligence, or resume, but simply a matter of fit. As the cliche goes, “it’s not you, it’s me, Swarthmore.”

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