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Vintage College Application

It’s college application season. A fall which may contain mixtures of preparation, trepidation, inspiration, doubt, creativity, procrastination, and excitement for students & families.

If you thought the process used to be simpler, you’re right. Following are excepts from one students mid-1930’s college application.  A few simple pages, completed by hand, and supporting documentation.


  • Ranked in the bottom third of class. 65th out of 110 students. 85’s in English and History. 50 in Physics.


  • His high school principal stated “He can be viewed upon to do enough to pass.” and  ” . . . his natural gifts of intelligence, likableness, and popularity.”
  • Parental input ” . . . has a brilliant mind, but is careless and lacks application in those in which he is not interested.”


  • Enjoys football and crew. No employment history.
  • One of nine siblings. His mother is a housewife with a high school education. He attended prep school, and is a legacy.

The all important Essay? The application poses just one question, “Why do you wish to come to Harvard?”

  • “I have always wanted to go there, . . .”

Except for the fact that he began as a freshman at a different college, and withdrew for medical reasons.

The 91 word essay conclusion?

  • “To be a “Harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one I sincerely hope I shall attain.”

Hmmm. I don’t sense quite the same urgency/agony/excitement of trying to express the essence of yourself, (what you have accomplished & what you plan to do) that the 150-650 word essays elicit today.

He was admitted. He built on his strengths.  He achieved some success.

One letter begins “A chap by the name of John Fitzgerald Kennedy . . .” from Radcliffe Heermance at Princeton.

Was it a different time, place and privilege? You bet. The application form asks for name of the principal or headmaster.


Back to current college applications.  I have always appreciated the following advice from an early childhood education teacher.

Please remember, it’s a journey not a race. 

(Made as parents were madly checking what was the appropriate time/age for our child to stand or draw a face) Can you tell which wonderful high school senior walked, talked or was potty trained first? Or last? Didn’t think so.

Breathe Seniors.  (Parents too.) Just like the student above, you or your child may be just beginning to realize your potential. College applications are just part of the journey. Good luck & have fun.

 JFK Pre-enrollment materials, 1935-1936

Thanks for your input!

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