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Applying Ourselves

Daily Encounters

This year’s overwhelming dread of fall move-in came in late July. It wasn’t Harvard I feared—who can wait to return to the famed land of red brick and overwork after only a few weeks away? No, it was the actual move-in itself. All those boxes. So much angst built up inside that I exclaimed aloud, “Phew! Thank gosh I don’t ever have to do move-in again after this year!”

I happened to make this announcement to the matriarch of a family of four, who had just finished transporting her loved ones and everything they own from a big house in Cambridge to a bigger house in Lexington. She gave me a death stare. Then she recommended that I start throwing out most of my belongings now, and continue the process for the rest of my life. “Keep it simple,” she said.

Simplicity is always the goal. This year I was going to donate the clothes I’ve had since Mystic Pizza, sell my extra coursebooks and buy a large supply of postage stamps. All this so I could minimize clutter and maximize efficiency while focusing my entire senior existence on my thesis.

It’s still September, and I’ve found two jobs that I just couldn’t pass up, plus a babysitting job (the baby is so cute!). I fill out two applications a week for various jobs and grants. My class schedule is a disaster, filled with those dreaded one-hour breaks, and I’ve taken to exercising extensively in avoidance of my thesis. And I’m out of stamps.

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Apparently I am not alone. “Harvard Students Just Can’t Slow Down,” shouted the headline of a recent Crimson article; “Many students ought to be doing fewer things better, and sleeping more,” wrote Dean Harry Lewis in last year’s Parents Newsletter. Amen.

But the problem escalates senior year, with paperwork flying everywhere. Fellowship, thesis grant and job applications—all with varying requirements and deadlines—swim around my desk, not to mention a writing course application, a Crimson column application and the form for one-last core exemption attempt. (Two years of e-mail sparring with the Core Office have not helped, as I embark on my 10th Core course.) And I’m not even applying to graduate school.

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Last month I ran into a business consultant from the Class of ’01 at a party. Over tasty coolers, she laughed when I explained the paperwork hell that is my life. “I didn’t apply to graduate school because I just couldn’t deal with one more application,” she said. This statement is telling. I can’t find the time to collect all the forms, let alone fill them out. A professor of mine understood, describing the Rhodes and Marshall applications as “like another full time job.”

My roommate Becky agreed. “It’s really strange that we’re sacrificing our academics to prove that we have good enough academics to get somewhere else.” Yes, “strange” is a great description; “annoying as heck,” even better. Giving up academic courses at Harvard for mind-numbing red tape is right up there with giving up a varsity sport to do laundry. But weed-out we must here at Harvard land. If you’re not motivated by massive piles of paperwork, then maybe you don’t deserve that fellowship as much as the winner.

With all this practice, we’re damn good at applications. Two weeks ago at the writing courses introductory meeting, Professor Jorie Graham joked that Harvard students’ “greatest communal expertise is in filling out applications.” That’s good, because two months into next year’s fellowships, the lucky winners will have to start the application process all over again, this time from a foreign country.

But wait, I think we can all stop filling in blanks for a second, because I have discovered a large-scale solution to senior year paperwork hell:

The fellowship and graduate school application communities of the world should all come together in love and friendship as college admissions departments once did, and create a Common Application For All Post-College Endeavors. This form would be called the CAFAPE, pronounced “calf ape,” a long-lost second cousin to the M-CAT.

It would be great. The first section of CAFAPE could ask for a transcript, resume and non-specific recommendation. Part two could be an essay section with bland-but-optional questions like: “So why are you qualified for this university/fellowship?” and “How would you apply the most challenging experience you’ve ever had to your work here at this job/university?”

Not only could essays be recycled ad-nauseum, unnecessary paper work would be eliminated. Any remaining details could be ironed out during the ensuing lackluster interview, with questions like, “Are you really qualified? Or are you just pretending?” And most imporantly, Harvard seniors could continue their legacy of never having to make a real-life decision ever.

Alas, until the unbelievably efficient system of CAFAPE is implemented, my fellow seniors and I will find ourselves socked with ever-piling paperwork, in addition to regular schoolwork, lingering extracurricular commitments and the almighty thesis.

And that one last Core class. Three cheers for simplicity.

Arianne R. Cohen ’03 is a women’s studies concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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