Thursday Tropes: The College Application Process

Standard

Everything you’ve seen on TV about getting into college in the US is pretty much completely and utterly FALSE. In a variety of ways, so let’s break this down. The latest offender is, of course, Glee. But I promise I’ll pick on Gossip Girl, too, this time!

The Long and Fairly Specific Process

In the US, there’s a pretty standard system for how the college application process works. You spend the latter portion of your junior year researching and checking out schools, as well as the following summer and some of the fall of your senior year. Most applications must be submitted by January 1st (with some early admission deadlines around early to mid-November). Some school with rolling admission may take applications into March. You will hear back on whether or not you’ve been accepted between April 1st and April 15th, and you are expected to respond by May 1st as to whether or not you will be enrolling at the places you have been accepted.

The process for scholarships I am less familiar with, but understand: full rides are extremely rare and take a lot of work to get.

I can understand dramatically why college application storylines are parsed out different than how they are in real life, but the inconsistency is irritating. To continue the Glee example, Rachel & Kurt have been stressing about their college applications for months, and that makes sense. They are about to put their all into an audition process, and that makes sense. While Quinn applied to Yale practically on a whim, she was at least theoretically doing so before the application deadline.

Shows tend to have their characters apply or only talk about applying right before they should hear back from colleges. This makes the storyline in question an contained arc, to happen at a set time in the season for only a , but really…why not drag out the storyline the way it drags out in real life? Have people stressing early on in your season, in the fall, and then you’ve got something to revisit and conclude in the spring, something to tie your season together overall.

Grades, Extracurriculars, and Effort

Getting into college is not impossible, but it sure ain’t easy. You need to keep up your grades, have extracurriculars, write personal essays and some essays that are a lot of BS1, you have to pay an application fee, you have to take the SATs and achieve a certain score. You have a limited amount of time to do it.

Also, Blair’s fashion sense is far more reliable.

Here’s where Gossip Girl screwed up. Serena van der Woodsen, Golden Girl of the Upper East Side, is at best implied to be a kinda so-so student. If she ever had extracurriculars beyond partying and sleeping around, it was never made clear. Yet somehow, she got into both Yale and Brown. On top of that, she got into Yale when Blair Waldorf, a Straight A student with numerous extracurriculars and even charitable activities under her belt, did not get into Yale, where she had wanted to go all her life. Wait, what?

If the show had just gone with Blair not getting in and having to deal with it, that would be one thing. Believable and relatable. But that wretched student and selfish whore Serena should get in instead of her is where it decided to push a plot over realism. The plot being GG’s neverending story of rivalry between Blair and Serena, and quite frankly, no, this is one place where Serena’a “can do no wrong” charm should have finally failed her, because no she did not deserve this one.

My point is, it’s a big deal, and it’s not easy. It’s a huge process that you have to be very personally involved in. Which brings us to…

Someone Else Can’t Do It For You

The idea that Glee‘s Santana could get into a college we can’t even be sure she’s applied to (as she has never once mentioned anything about college or future plans until this episode), much less earn a full athletic scholarship to said college, is insulting to the reality of the matter. Oh hey, if I’d known it was that easy, that all I needed was a well-intentioned by life-ruiningly stupid significant other2 and a bully of a teacher to get me that, that would’ve been so much simpler! No applying for said scholarship, or trying out for it in person with a scout from said college necessary!

Specifically that Santana, who was highlighted as having no solid idea of what she wanted to do post-graduation but who was so extremely certain that she would be famous (without every once mentioning a single notion, plan, or even a shred of an idea of how she would accomplish this), not only got into a college that it seems she never applied to thanks to Brittany and Sue Sylvester, but also got a full ride on a cheerleading scholarship! That is, an athletic scholarship, for which she had definitely never applied, auditioned for, had a scout come and meet her and see what she could do, no effort on her part whatsoever.

When applying to college, it is a process you must be personally and intimately involved with; someone else cannot do it for you. I feel fairly certain that if someone else does and the colleges learn that, in fact, your acceptance could be revoked. It is YOUR future that is being determined by this process, your actions, and your decisions. It’s yours. So own it.

Gossip Girl is an offender on this point as well. Following Blair’s rejection from Yale, Chuck surprised her by letting her know he’d slipped an application for her off to NYU. This one I’m willing to give a pass to, however. A big theme of that show is how these kids are the rich elite and they routinely get away with crap because of that. Chuck is at least shown talking to someone from NYU at one point, and I don’t doubt his ability to print off Blair’s college applications and essays, get a forged signature, and submit it. Also as previously noted, Blair legitimately has the grades and resume to get into NYU all on her own, and the college application process was a theme of hers throughout the season when this happened.

In Conclusion…

Would you show people filling out their own applications and earning their own way, and hard work being rewarded once in a while? Stop having them only remember to think about college during April/May sweeps week! And enough with the miracle scholarships out of nowhere that no one even applied for! College applications are stressful enough without shoving forced, fake, and inaccurate data on top of it!


1. Oh, but BS essays are easy, you say! Think again. BS essays you don’t care about are easy. BS essays that are the difference between you getting into a school or not and which must be well-written and convincing are another thing entirely.

2. Unrelated to the current topic, the fact that Brittany releasing a sex video online of her and Santana is more or less shrugged off here is appalling as well, and I’ll be honest, I think it’s because they’re both girls. If this storyline happened with a straight couple, there would be a huge uproar about a guy putting a sex video out there without the girl’s knowledge or consent. Here, it’s glossed over as a story point that has no bearing, weight, or consequence and oh hell, why do I bother, it’s freakin’ Glee! Of course it has none of the hallmarks of good writing! Argh!

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4 responses »

  1. Maybe that Serena girl was a legacy? Like, if her dad bought Yale a new library, I bet they’d let her in even if she drooled and only spoke pidgin English. Maybe not, though.

    BS essays are easier than they look, but only after you’ve been through college. To high school students they’re sort of like being hoisted up the strappado.

  2. Serena, is, but no more or less than Blair is, so those factors cancel each other out. And no building purchases or huge donations were mentioned from either side in that plot either.

    Yeah, *after* college, no prob! Before, it’s a whole new ballgame. 🙂

  3. Ivy Leagues are weird animals. 11 stoners with B averages from my school got into Yale because they had parents who worked there. Maybe Blair was too perfect. She’d make the legacy stoners look bad.

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