College application process: Wasting paper, causing melancholy
Consider the amount of paper used in college brochures, transcripts, recommendations, SAT booklets and applications. (Hint: it's a lot.)
Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - 22:26
WASTEFUL: How many sheets of paper does it take to get here? (Photo: Jill Clardy/Flickr)
The college admissions process is, at its best, a time when high school seniors discover themselves through answering seemingly mundane essay prompts and going on predictably scheduled campus visits. At its worst, it is an understatedly stressful time when one's own abilities are questioned and the state of the education system seems to be treading downhill. But behind the multi-faceted emotional experience of filling out applications is a matter gone unnoticed — the sheer waste of paper that results from the overall process.
College Board, the ominous standardized testing organization that administers the SAT, prints its SAT subject tests in a 100+ page packet which includes all of the 20 subject tests offered. That's a gratuitous amount of paper, since one student can only take up to three tests in one sitting.
Since there are seven SAT test dates every year, including the March date which only offers the SAT reasoning test — also printed in a large packet — and approximately a million and a half people take the test yearly, quite a few trees are used at the expense of the standardized testing industry. And though the Score Choice policy may have alleviated some stress in the college process, some colleges only accept official test scores on paper, which results in thousands of sheets of wasted per every college that hasn't become technologically adept yet.
There are 414 colleges that use The Common Application — a website that consolidates all essays, supplements and recommendations onto the viral application, and makes the admissions process much greener than, say, five years ago, when high application fees were coupled with the cost of postage. A year's worth of prospective students' college mail can fill more than three cardboard boxes, and hundreds of packets of brochures and college information are made for these students during information sessions. Many colleges, however, opt to send students e-mails with all of the same information, which saves paper (albeit at the cost of a flooded inbox).
Though colleges are moving toward paperless applications, many high schools still are not. High school counselors nationwide are responsible for sending applicants' transcripts and recommendations to desired colleges, and though there is the option to do this via The Common Application, many still opt to send these items on paper. For a large public school, this choice could result in approximately 10,000 sheets of paper for a graduating senior class, in addition to the amount of paper the school wastes on a regular basis.
Once college admissions have sorted through what I can only imagine as piles of envelopes of all sizes and white printing paper, they again send out paper in the form of acceptance, rejection and deferral letters. But colleges are increasingly notifying applicants through their admissions websites, though some only post the rejections that way while still sending acceptance letters in the mail — a modern twist on the "big envelope" acceptance anxiety.
Wasting paper is thought little of when the cost of paper itself is so cheap, but in the midst of a process that expends paper so carelessly, it is essential to care more about it. What more can be said about the college admissions process, which already toils with the minds of young learners internationally? Recycle the college mail they send (they mostly just boast about diversity and the beauty of the campus), convince school officials to switch to the technology available to them, make the CollegeBoard more environmentally conscious ... these are all feasible options for shooting the admissions process with a green arrow.
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