May 6, 2017

The Common App introduces new features for 2017-18

University of Oregon

While far and away the most popular and frequently-used online college application platform, serving Common App recently announce a series of “enhancements” that appear to directly respond to features introduced this year by the Coalition Application, proving that competition isn’t always a bad thing.


more than three million students, parents, counselors and teachers, the
According to a statement from the Common App, “Many of the changes for next year’s application stem from the feedback we receive from the admissions, high school, and CBO counselors on our applications and outreach advisory committees and from the suggestions of the students and counselors who have used our platform.”

And it seems that some of the feedback the Common App has been receiving suggests the Coalition might be coming up with ideas that benefit the industry as a whole.  It’s evident that the Common App is taking the opportunity to look at what might be working to support their stakeholders—colleges, students, and counselors—and “go one better.”

So regardless of where you come down on the confusion caused by having multiple college application platforms, the one undeniable benefit is that competition encourages innovation.
Here are some of the new features recently announced by the Common Application (don’t be surprised if a few sound a little familiar):

Google Drive Integration: Students will now be able to easily access and upload documents, resumes, and school assignments while completing the Common App and college-specific sections of the application. Recognizing that many school districts have adopted Google Docs and Google Drive to enable their students and teachers to create, collaborate, and access shared documents from any internet connected device, the Common App is introducing a feature that looks remarkably similar to the much-maligned Coalition Student Locker, only possibly more efficient. Some students do not have personal computers at home but use Google Drive on school or library computers to store documents. And by using systems students are already using, the Common App is certainly making the process more accessible. But the Coalition’s Student Locker also supports video, pictures and other multimedia files (not just documents), so the jury may still be out on which enhancement has the greatest general usefulness.

CBO, Advising, and Recommender Enhancements: Students receiving support from advising and community-based organizations will be able to work with those counselors just as they work with their school-based counselors and teachers within the application. These individuals will then be able to manage caseloads and view student progress within the Common App system. In addition, any student who wishes to do so will be able to share a view of their in-progress application with their school counselor, CBO counselor, or other advisor. Again, the Coalition pioneered this kind of application management capability, which supports schools and counselors without Naviance or other similar systems.

Courses & Grades: At times, students are required to submit self-reported high school academic records when applying to some colleges and universities. With Courses & Grades, students will be able to self-report transcript information as part of their Common Application, just as they are currently able to do on the Coalition Application. By integrating the Courses & Grades section into the Common App, students who are already sending this information will be able to complete and submit it with their Common App, making the process of self-reporting transcripts more standardized and streamlined for students, counselors, and colleges. Courses & Grades will launch in limited release on August 1, 2017.

Spanish Language Resources: Key information for using the Common App will be translated so that students, parents, and other family members who speak Spanish as their first language can better understand the college admission process, including applying for financial aid and receiving virtual mentoring. This new tool will also benefit counselors who will be working with these families and need Common App materials in Spanish. This is one enhancement that will be of enormous benefit to some families and is truly unique to the Common App.

The Common App announces new members for 2017-18

University of Nevada Las Vegas

The Common Application recently announced the addition of 38 new members to a roster of what Appalachian State University, Kent State University, as well as the Universities of Houston, Oregon, Nevada, Missouri and Wyoming, these numbers are bound to increase significantly.

will be over 740 colleges and universities accepting the Common App for 2017-18. The popular online platform and college planning website currently serves and supports over three million students, teachers and counselors in the U.S. and around the world every year.  And with the addition of several large public institutions including
“Our new members represent the best in geographic and institutional diversity. Together, they offer unique experiences for our applicants, one-third of whom are the first in their families to go to college, while also sharing our mission of access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process,” said Jenny Rickard, The Common Application President & CEO. “We are excited and honored to welcome these colleges and universities into our membership.”

Membership in the Common Application is open to colleges sharing the organizations mission of advancing college access and must be
  • Not-for-profit
  • Undergraduate degree-granting
  • Accredited by a regional accrediting association (if inside the U.S.)
  • A member of the Council of International Schools (if outside the U.S.)
  • Committed to the pursuit of equity and integrity in the college admission process
Members are no longer required to be members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The requirement to evaluate students using a “holistic” selection process including a recommendation and an untimed writing sample (essay) has also been dropped to accommodate a wider variety of member institutions.

As a result, the Common App membership for 2016-17 included
  • Colleges from 48 states plus Washington, DC
  • More than 250 colleges with no application fee
  • 100+ public universities
  • 44 international universities from 4 countries
  • 9 Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • More than 200 test-optional/test-flexible institutions
But the Common App isn’t the only online application from which students can choose. This year, the Universal College Application (UCA) was welcomed by 34 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell University, Princeton, Vanderbilt and the University of Chicago. The Cappex Application, with its promise of no application fees and no supplemental essays, was accepted by 67 institutions including Beloit, Cornell College, Florida Southern, Ohio Wesleyan, Queens University of Charlotte, and the Universities of Tampa, and Dayton. And 47 out of 95 Coalition members finally launched applications during 2016-17 (it is expected that all will be online by next summer).  With new membership guidelines in place effective January 1, the Coalition expects to add more colleges for 2017-18. So far, new  members include Arizona State University, Bucknell University, Case Western Reserve University, Elon University, Rutgers University—Newark, University of Arizona, University of Kentucky, University of Delaware and University of New Mexico. By May 1, the Coalition plans to make a final announcement of all members for the upcoming cycle.

In the meantime, the following colleges and universities will be offering the Common Application for 2017-18:

Anderson University (IN)
Appalachian State University (NC)
Art Academy of Cincinnati (OH)
Barton College (NC)
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar
Catawba College (NC)
Cleveland State University (OH)
Defiance College (OH)
Dominican College (NY)
Duke Kunshan University (China)
East Carolina University (NC)
Eastern Mennonite University (VA)
Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ)
Hellenic College (MA)
Kent State University (OH)
Lincoln Memorial University (TN)
Marshall University (WV)
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Monash University (Australia)
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN)
Southern California Institute of Architecture
Trine University (IN)
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain)
University College Dublin (Ireland)
University of Houston (TX)
University of Minnesota, Morris (MN)
University of Missouri (MO)
University of Missouri—Kansas City (MO)
University of Missouri—St. Louis (MO)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas (NV)
University of Northern Colorado (CO)
University of Oregon (OR)
University of the West (CA)
University of Wyoming (WY)
Vermont Technical College (VT)
Western Michigan University (MI)
Wheaton College (IL)
York College (PA)

This is the first in a series of two articles.

Waitlisted in 2017—you have lots of company

College of William and Mary

For the admissions office, it’s a critical tool used to control the flow of students admitted to the six long months for a decision, the wait list feels like a one-way ticket to nowhere.

institution. But for the applicant who has waited
And for students manipulated by enrollment management systems designed to attract thousands only to admit a select few, all we can say is, “Welcome to purgatory.”

The wait list scenario is particularly frustrating for the subset of applicants who were organized enough to submit early—Early Action, Early Action II, Single Choice Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision I or even Early Decision II—only to find themselves sitting on one or several wait lists.

And despite what “experts” might say, waitlisted students can only rely on anecdotal evidence as to what has worked in the past to move an application from wait list to admit.  What may have been successful last year, won’t necessarily work this time. There are just too many factors at play.
But hope springs eternal.

For the most part, colleges are unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further enrollment goals designed to fill freshman classes with the best, brightest and most highly qualified high school students.

And those familiar with the game know the wait list is used to shape a class profile that aspires to be balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated residency requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

“Essentially, the wait list exists to accommodate for demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers,” explains Richard Clark, director of undergraduate admissions for Georgia Tech, in a blog post titled, The Wait List Sucks. “If you have the right number of deposits from the West coast, you go to your wait list for more East coast students. If you have enough Chemistry majors, you may be going the wait list for Business students. Ultimately, the job of admission deans and directors is to make and shape the class, as defined by institutional priorities. Meeting target enrollment is critical to bottom line revenue, creating a desired ethos on campus, proliferating the school’s brand, and other factors.”

For the record, wait lists are almost never prioritized and are almost always unpredictable.
And all too often, schools promoting “needs blind” admissions quietly convert to “needs sensitive” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the wait list.

In other words, there’s no ranking, no money, and not much hope.

Sometimes, the list is hardly more than a thinly disguised public relations scam designed to keep agitated parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length. It represents a political solution to an uncomfortable situation.

We can all agree that waitlisted is not a great place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, your status is clear. You can move on with your life. But waitlisted is living with uncertainty.

And at the end of the day, very few waitlisted students are invited to the dance.

Here are some 2016-17 Common Data Set statistics (Question C2) published by a handful of colleges and universities:

Amherst College
Waitlisted: 1269 (582 accepted places on the wait list)
Admitted: 3 (33 in 2015; 61 in 2014; 49 in 2013)
Barnard College
Waitlisted: 1615 (1340 accepted places)
Admitted: 59 (6 in 2015; 21 in 2014; 41 in 2013)
Carnegie Mellon University
Waitlisted: 3809
Admitted: 7 (4 in 2015; 73 in 2014; 87 in 2013)
College of William and Mary
Waitlisted: 4115 (2037 accepted places)
Admitted:  154 (187 in 2015; 59 in 2014; 96 in 2013)
Cornell University
Waitlisted: 4571 (2874 accepted places)
Admitted:  61 (81 in 2015; 96 in 2014; 168 in 2013)
Dartmouth College
Waitlisted: 2064 (1194 accepted places)
Admitted:  16 (129 in 2015; 0 in 2014; 87 in 2013)
Dickinson College
Waitlisted: 810 (238 accepted places)
Admitted: 29 (0 in 2015; 0 in 2014; 10 in 2013)
George Mason University
Waitlisted:  1218 (839 accepted places)
Admitted:  200 (350 in 2015; 684 in 2014; 252 in 2013)
Georgetown University*
Waitlisted:  2184 (1249 accepted places)
Admitted:  149 (114 in 2014; 82 in 2013)
*2016-17 data is not being made available
Goucher College
Waitlisted: 102 (46 accepted places)
Admitted: 20 (7 in 2015; 8 in 2014; 2 in 2013)
James Madison University
Waitlisted:  2560 (1585 accepted places)
Admitted:  205 (500 in 2015; 166 in 2014; 405 in 2013)
Princeton University
Waitlisted: 1237 (840 accepted places)
Admitted: 18 (39 in 2015; 41 in 2014; 33 in 2013)
University of Michigan
Waitlisted: 11,197 (3970 accepted places)
Admitted: 36 (90 in 2015; 91 in 2014; 89 in 2013)
University of Richmond
Waitlisted: 3209 (1236 accepted places)
Admitted:  60 (151 in 2015; 12 in 2014; 95 in 2013)
University of Virginia
Waitlisted: 4987 (2871 accepted places)
Admitted:  360  (402 in 2015; 42 in 2014; 185 in 2013)
Villanova University
Waitlisted: 5452 (2677 accepted places)
Admitted: 26 (50 in 2015; 464 in 2014; 350 in 2013)
Virginia Tech
Waitlisted:  2118 (1544 accepted places)
Admitted:  0 (750 in 2015; 110 in 2013)
Washington and Lee University
Waitlisted:  1529 (652 accepted places)
Admission offers: 48 (193 in 2015; 72 in 2014; 96 in 2013)
Williams College
Waitlisted:  2343 (864 accepted places)
Admission offers: 24 (53 in 2015; 70 in 2014; 44 in 2013)

Numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For colleges with unfilled seats after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is like a candy jar from which they can pick and choose depending on wants and needs.

“The wait list is a reminder that I’m not very smart,” continues Clark.  “If I were better at my job, I could predict exactly how many students each year would accept our offer of admission.”

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list—write a letter, get another recommendation, meet with an admissions rep—but there is an emotional cost which must be factored in.

“This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school,” explains Dean J, in her UVa admission blog. “For now you need to look at your other options and think about which one feels right to you.  Some of you will want to hold on and see what happens with the waiting list and others will want to fully invest themselves in another school.”

There is no right or wrong here—only what is right for the individual student.

But is the list generally worth the wait?

Sometimes, but not usually.

Top game design programs for 2017

University of Southern California

The Princeton Review recently released its eighth annual report on undergraduate and graduate
schools with top programs for studying or launching a career in game design.

And the University of Southern California captured the No. 1 spot on the undergraduate list of schools (up from #2 in 2016). Southern Methodist University (SMU) took the top place on the graduate schools list (also up from #2 last year).

“USC Games represents an exciting collaboration between the School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media & Games Division and the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science,” explains the USC Games website. “Incorporating elements of design, artistry, production and engineering, USC Games offers an utterly unique educational experience for students, and serves as the launching pad for them to play significant roles in the game design field.”

According to CNN Money and PayScale, video game design is in the top third of “best jobs” in America, with potential for substantial growth, great pay and satisfying work. What’s particularly appealing about the profession is that the industry is relatively new, so it’s still an innovative field open to pioneers and creative minds.

Formerly assigned to a far corner of the computer science department, game design has emerged as a respectable, multidisciplinary course of study. And schools hoping to cash in on the growing market for designers are building glitzy new facilities tricked out with cutting-edge technology and equipment.

The Princeton Review selected schools based on a survey of 150 institutions in the U.S., Canada and abroad offering video game design programs or courses. The 40-question survey asked schools to report on a range of topics from academic offerings and lab facilities to starting salaries and career achievements.

“Game design is an exciting field and programs are springing up in colleges all over the world, said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s Editor in Chief. “The top schools on our lists have outstanding faculties and great facilities which will give students the skills and experience they need to pursue a career in this dynamic and burgeoning field.”

Although relatively new, George Mason University has a well-respected game design program in the Washington metropolitan area and has received recognition, along with the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) as among the 50 best game design schools and colleges by gamedesigning.org. Using slightly different criteria from that used by Princeton Review, GameDesigning ranks the University of Southern California, the University of Utah, and DigiPen Institute of Technology as the top three programs in the field.

And for the record, the Princeton Review’s top 25 undergraduate schools to study game design for 2017 are:
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)
  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, WA)
  • Becker College (Worcester, MA)
  • Hampshire College (Amherst, MA)
  • New York University (Brooklyn, NY)
  • The Art Institute of Vancouver (Vancouver, British Columbia)
  • Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
  • Vancouver Film School (Vancouver, British Columbia)
  • Bradley University (Peoria, IL)
  • Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
  • Champlain College (Burlington, VT)
  • University of Wisconsin-Stout (Menomonie, WI)
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA)
  • The University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX)
  • DePaul University (Chicago, IL)
  • Abertay University (Dundee, Scotland)
  • Ferris State University (Big Rapids, MI)
  • University of California-Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)
  • Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, OH)
  • Cogswell College (San Jose, CA)
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)
  • Miami University (Oxford, OH)
Keep in mind that like any other “ranking,” this list represents one organization’s opinions and should provide little more than “food for thought” or a starting place for a more thorough investigation of a whole range of video game design programs.

Top schools continue to see more ACT scores

Princeton University

Despite whatever feelings he has about the ACT, Georgetown’s admissions dean Charles Deacon concedes that the highly-selective university saw an increased number of students taking and submitting ACT scores this year. According to The Hoya, Georgetown’s student-run newspaper, the number of students submitting ACT scores was about even with those submitting SAT scores among this fall’s early applicants.


And this is a relatively new phenomenon.

For more than a half century, the ACT ran a distant second to the SAT in the high-stakes college admissions race. It was the “We Try Harder,” entrance exam—popular in the Midwest and the South but hardly worthy of notice on either coast.

But that all changed several years ago, as the ACT pulled ahead of the SAT in terms of test-taking popularity.  And since then, the ACT has continued to widen the gap.

It’s not that the College Board is hurting for customers. In fact, more test-takers completed the new SAT from March through June of 2016 than took the old SAT during the same period in 2015, according to a report published by the College Board last fall.

But the number of high school graduates taking the ACT soared to a record 2.1 million students—nearly 64 percent of graduating seniors. From 2012-2016, the number of ACT test-taking high school grads increased by 25.5 percent, while the estimated overall number of graduates has increased by only 1.3 percent, leaving the College Board with something serious to think about.

In all fairness, a significant percent of the growth experienced by the ACT is a direct result of the adoption of the ACT for statewide assessment. For the graduating class of 2016, the ACT was administered to all public school graduates in 20 states. These students were pretty much required to take the ACT—like it or not.

But the good news for the ACT doesn’t end there. Not surprisingly, the number of tests submitted for admissions purposes shows a similar trend.  Colleges are definitely seeing way more ACT scores than they did a decade ago. And it appears that many more students are taking both tests and submitting both sets of scores for consideration by colleges, particularly uber-selective institutions.

According to the New York Times, there appears to be a real “shift in the behavior of top high school students,” as many more choose to work toward high scores on both tests.  And that’s okay with top colleges.

“I don’t know all the pieces of why this is happening, but I think more students are trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions at Princeton University, in an interview with the Times. “And for us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information.”

And applicants are getting the message.  Those with top scores on both tests want colleges to have the benefit of knowing they did well on both.  On the flipside, those who did significantly better on one test or the other tend to only submit the better set of scores—depending on the specific rules of the particular college or university.

It will be interesting to see how this trend evolves as “new” or redesigned SAT test results make their appearance among this year’s admissions decisions, particularly as the SAT has transformed itself into yet another curriculum-based test and blurred its differences with the ACT.

Regardless, based on test-submission patterns easily tracked for colleges posting Common Data Set information, the College Board has a very real challenge making up for ground lost to the ACT.

Here is a sample of test-submission statistics for the freshman class entering in 2005 as compared to the classes entering in fall 2016 (note that yearly totals exceeding 100% indicate colleges considered both the SAT and the ACT for some students):

Amherst College
2005 SAT:          87%                         vs.          2005 ACT:          13%
2016 SAT:          52% (53% in 2015)vs.          2016 ACT:          51% (49% in 2015)
Auburn University
2005 SAT:           31%                        vs.          2005 ACT:          69%
2016 SAT:           12% (14%)             vs.          2016 ACT:          87% (85%)
Carnegie Mellon University
2005 SAT:           98%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           17%
2016 SAT:           78% (84%)             vs.         2015 ACT:           41% (37%)
Case Western Reserve
2005 SAT:           89%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           58%
2016 SAT:           50% (57%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           66% (62%)
College of William and Mary
2005 SAT:           97%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           3%
2016 SAT:           77% (80%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           44% (44%)
Cornell University
2005 SAT:           98%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2016 SAT:           69% (75%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           51% (45%)
Dartmouth University
2005 SAT:           89%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           11%
2016 SAT:           53% (59%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           47% (41%)
Georgetown University*
2005 SAT:          95%                         vs.           2005 ACT:            7%
2015 SAT:          78% (84% in 2014)vs.           2015 ACT:          47% (40% in 2014)
Lehigh University
2005 SAT:           98%                        vs.          2005 ACT:            2%
2016 SAT:           58% (63%)             vs.          2016 ACT:          42% (37%)
Princeton University
2005 SAT:           100%                      vs.         2005 ACT:           N/A
2016 SAT:           73% (80%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           45% (36%)
Stanford University
2005 SAT:           97%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           23%
2016 SAT:           77% (80%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           51% (51%)
Swarthmore College
2005 SAT:           99%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           14.9%
2016 SAT:           67.5% (73%)          vs.         2016 ACT:           48.7% (46%)
University of Michigan
2005 SAT:           55%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           66%
2016 SAT:           26% (27%)             vs.         2016 ACT            82 (83%)
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
2005 SAT:           99%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           22%
2016 SAT:           71% (76%)             vs.         2016 ACT:           78% (74%)
University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh campus)
2005 SAT:            99%                       vs.         2005 ACT:           20%
2015 SAT:            80% (85%)            vs.         2015 ACT:           50% (47%)
University of Virginia
2005 SAT:           99%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           14%
2015 SAT:           77% (82%)             vs.         2015 ACT:           50% (44%)
Vanderbilt University
2005 SAT:           89%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           53%
2015 SAT:           37.6% (41%)          vs.         2015 ACT:           67.2% (63%)
Virginia Commonwealth University
2005 SAT:           95%                        vs.         2005 ACT:            15%
2015 SAT:           81.1% (87.4%)       vs.        2015 ACT:              26.4% (26.9%)
Washington and Lee University
2005 SAT:           80%                        vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2015 SAT:           37% (46%)             vs.         2015 ACT:           63% (53%)
Wesleyan University
2005 SAT:            94%                       vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2015 SAT:            58% (61%)            vs.         2015 ACT:           41% (38%)
*The most recent Common Data Set posted online is 2015-16

Sep 19, 2016

The case against peer editing or when personal statements are not personal OR confidential



Tomorrow, at least one high school English class in northern Virginia will be listening to their teacher read aloud “the best” among all the college essays or personal statements submitted to her by students in the class for a grade. This will be after the class has engaged in an activity referred to as “peer editing,” in which essays are exchanged, read and evaluated by students in the class.

In other words, personal statements meant to be both personal and confidential will be shared and showcased for the entire class to appreciate, criticize and possibly comment on.  A document considered central to the college admissions process will be passed around and subjected to class discussion promoted by a teacher, who while well-meaning, is potentially breaching a student’s confidentiality and arranging for feedback that is amateurish at best and possibly self-serving at worst.

No one supports English teachers more than I do. I was one—albeit for a very short time. And no one wants English teachers to teach students the basics of expository writing and give them experience preparing self-reflective essays more than I do. I read hundreds of essays each year, many of which suggest to me that the student has never been asked to engage in this kind of writing before.  I want these lessons to begin, but well before fall of senior year.  I want students to have experience developing personal statements of the sort required by colleges throughout middle and high school. Why wait when communication and writing skills are considered so important by colleges and they are relatively easy to develop under less stressful conditions?

Peer editing can be a useful teaching device in which a student learns from another when carefully supervised and controlled. In small groups or on a one-to-one basis, students may be provided with opportunities to learn about the process of accepting criticism and subsequently revising written work.  And it can work equally well in early elementary years as in a freshman college writing seminar. I’m all for it.

But when it comes to peer editing college essays, I have to protest. In addition to sharing a document that really isn’t meant for sharing, the feedback isn’t always so good. I’ve seen essays in which the peer editor has provided unconstructive criticism and incorrectly corrected spelling and grammar. I have had students lose confidence in the quality of their work based on remarks provided by less-than-knowledgeable readers whose experience with college admissions is by definition limited. Who needs that kind of help?

And while I hate to attribute negative motivations among peers, it’s na├»ve to think that many of these students aren’t competing against one another for admission to selective and highly-selective colleges and universities.  Sharing these kinds of personal statements not only opens the work to self-interested criticism but also gives away ideas for topics, formatting and approaches to essay prompts.  Even if subconscious, it’s way too easy to take someone else’s idea and run with it. And while we tell students to write personal statements that none of their friends could write, these kinds of exercises do anything but protect the uniqueness of a student’s independent work.

Instead of reading aloud personal statements generated by students in her class, the English teacher who has embarked on the mission of helping her students with this project would do more of a service by reading sample essays from other sources and generating discussions based on those essays. I particularly like samples found on the Essay Hell website or some of those provided by colleges themselves such as the Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked series or a similar collection put together by Connecticut College.  This avoids conflicts, comparisons and possible questions about confidentiality.  And if what my students tell me is correct, it may make the lesson much more valuable.

Sep 17, 2016

Penn reverses direction on ‘Restrictive’ Early Decision



Late yesterday, the University of Pennsylvania issued a statement reversing direction on a policy announced last summer that would have prohibited students applying Early Decision (ED) to Penn from applying to other private institutions under nonbinding Early Action (EA) programs.

According to the Penn Office of Undergraduate Admissions, “…Penn will continue the practice of allowing Early Decision applicants to also apply to other institutions through their respective non-binding admission process, as we have in years past.”

But this isn’t the first time Penn has reconsidered the terms of its peculiar twist on Early Decision. The original policy as outlined on the admissions website would have barred students from applying Early Action to any other institution—public or private.  After an immediate firestorm of criticism, the policy was very quickly revised to allow students to apply Early Action to public institutions while still imposing the rule on students considering EA applications to the University of Chicago, MIT and other selective and not-so-selective private colleges and universities.

So why would Penn try to restrict Early Decision, which contractually binds a student to attend if admitted? According to sources within the admissions office, an increasing number of students were trying to break ED contracts. It was felt that early action decisions coming at about the same time as Penn’s ED offers were tempting students with better options to bolt from their commitment. The solution was to simply take this possibility off the table.

Besides, according to Penn’s statement reversing the RED policy, the language used to restrict Early Decision was “similar to Single Choice Early Action” used by competing institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. So what’s the difference—right?

The difference was that in the highly competitive marketplace for top students, the new Penn policy was forcing applicants to make a choice they might not have been ready to make. In fact, a series of conversations with students considering Penn backed by chatter on message boards suggested that students were deciding against taking a chance on Penn’s difficult-to-crack Early Decision program for greater flexibility to apply EA to other schools. 

In other words, it seemed at least possible that Penn might be losing early applicants—an outcome that the very competitive and numbers-conscious admissions office might not have seen coming.

“For us, it drops Penn from a possible ED school to only being a possible RD [regular decision] school, which is probably not what they had in mind,” commented one parent on College Confidential. 

Another parent agreed, “My kid went from a very likely Penn ED candidate to quite possibly not applying at all.”

But of course the Penn admissions office would not frame its decision to reverse course on Early Decision that way. Instead, Penn’s statement refers to “insightful dialogue among segments of the counseling community” and suggests that “students interested in Penn feel most supported when they are able to apply to other institutions under non-binding admissions plans.”  And since the objective of Penn’s admissions policies is “to help students make informed decisions, and not to produce additional concern around the application process,” they decided to drop a policy that may or may not have had the potential of hurting their application numbers, which by the way, they could easily see evidence of by now.

And it was probably a wise decision. As a parent trying to puzzle out Penn’s need for restricting Early Decision said, “In the fast changing world of higher education making one single bad contrarian move could dethrone you from your perch for decades. No school is willing to risk that now, [e]specially under the harsh light of yearly rankings.”

Penn’s experiment has evidently failed, and another chapter closes on the increasingly bizarre world of college admissions. That doesn’t mean, however, that some new and even more twisted policy designed to capture control over the process and numbers won’t appear on some college admissions website in the coming year. But it is encouraging to see that Penn certainly knew when to back off and did so early enough for students to adjust application strategies.

Disclosure: Nancy Griesemer is a proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania College for Women (CW) — a designation the university no longer uses.