Jul 6, 2018

UVa announces essay prompts for 2018-19

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia announced today that essay prompts for fall 2019 applicants will be looking very very similar to those in previous years, with only a few minor tweaks to keep things interesting.

Each year, we solicit feedback about our prompts from students and admission staff. Sometimes we tweak a question, sometimes we add to the options, and sometimes we remove options,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, “Dean J” of the UVa Admissions Blog.Our prompts aren't changing too much, but we did add one option to the second.

In addition to a required personal statement, UVa applicants will be asked to write two short responses to prompts specified in the application.

As in past years, UVa is “looking for passionate students” to join a “diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.” Prospective “Hoos” are asked to answer in a half page or approximately 250 words one of a series of questions corresponding to the school/program to which they are applying:
  • College of Arts and Sciences: What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design?
  • Kinesiology Program: Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
  • School of Nursing: School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.
  • School of Architecture: Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
For the second essay, applicants are asked to pick one of five questions to answer in a half page or roughly 250 words:
  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
  • UVA students are charged with pushing the boundaries of knowledge to serve others and contribute to the common good. Give us an example of how you’ve used what you learned to make a positive impact in another person’s life.
UVa joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success in September of 2015 and may finally offer that application as an option for this fall, in addition to the Common Application. Both platforms have already posted their personal statement prompts. Although the questions are very similar, it’s worth noting that while the Common App word count is between 250 and 650 words, the Coalition “strongly recommends” that personal statements stay within 500 to 550 words.

And in the college admissions world, it’s wise to take these kinds of recommendations very seriously!

Princeton will require graded papers from 2018-19 applicants

Princeton University
Beginning with the 2018-19 admissions application season, Princeton University will require a graded writing sample, preferably in the subjects of English or history, to be submitted by all applicants for undergraduate admission.

According to a statement on the Princeton website, “University officials believe that assessing a student’s in-class work will provide helpful and meaningful insight into a student’s academic potential.”

Providing a graded paper option in the admissions process isn’t anything new. Lots of colleges and universities have been doing it for many years.

But requiring a graded paper from all applicants represents a major departure from usual practice. And making the announcement in a statement also advising applicants that the University will no longer require the writing sections of the SAT or ACT gives food for thought. In fact, the change in policy might just have something to do with the current state of high school writing instruction and evaluation.

Historically, colleges have used many different tools for evaluating an applicant’s writing skills.
And considering the number of remedial writing and communications classes offered at even the most prestigious institutions, the need for making an accurate assessment of college-readiness in this key area is becoming increasingly important.

To assess writing ability, colleges may carefully review grades in writing-intensive English, history, and social science classes. Or they may require one or more essays as part of an application for admission.

Some colleges factor in SAT or ACT writing scores during their evaluations. But this is becoming a less popular policy. In fact, according to James Murphy, director of national outreach for the Princeton Review, only 23 schools in the country continue to require these sections of the tests as “these assessments do a poor job in evaluating writing skill.”

So what’s another option? A handful of colleges invite the submission of a “graded” paper in lieu of an essay or as part of additional requirements for test-optional/test-flexible admissions.

During the 2017-18 admissions season, a significant number of Common Application member colleges, including Agnes Scott College, Amherst College, Brandeis University, George Washington University and Sarah Lawrence College made provisions for uploading or otherwise receiving graded papers.

The Coalition Application even has built-in capacity in the Student Locker for both storing and adding these kinds of documents to applications.  And with this in mind, several Coalition members also gave students the option to submit a graded paper including the University of Chicago and St. Olaf College.

And it’s not such a bad idea.

Graded papers not only provide insight into a student’s basic writing ability, but they also speak volumes about a high school’s grading system.

For example, an “A” on a paper filled with grammar, spelling or syntax errors obviously diminishes the value of the grade and suggests the possibility of grade inflation at work within a specific class or at the high school in general. And it may say something about the applicant’s ability to recognize fundamental mistakes in his or her own work.

On the other hand, a “C” on a beautifully written essay could be indication of a particularly difficult or demanding class or school.

“There were times when I would be reading the essay being awed by the poor level of writing, while the teacher still gave an A to the student,” said former dean of admissions and financial aid Tom Parker, in an interview with the Amherst Student. “[A graded paper] was a great opportunity to have a deeper look into the varying levels of writing education in high schools.”

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discover if a college is inviting a graded paper or how it should be submitted. And there are usually no guidelines as to what should accompany the paper, if anything. In general, it might be helpful to include a cover sheet with basic identifying information such as the student’s name and birthdate; the name of the course for which the paper was written noting honors, AP or IB; the specific assignment or essay prompt; and possibly the final grade for the class.

Once the decision has been made about what to send, students sometimes need to figure out how to send it, as colleges vary enormously on how they prefer to receive graded papers. Some ask for an upload and others create a dedicated portal on the website. Still others go with snail mail, fax or email.

Although the Common App offers easy-to-use tools for uploading graded papers, a number of colleges have mysteriously chosen to make the process more complicated. For these members, the Common App may only provide an easily missed link on the “My Colleges” page under “Standardized Test Policy.” If you follow the link, you may be given instructions for submitting the paper.  Or not.

To make things even more challenging, a note might appear under the “Instructions & Help” column to the right of the college-specific preferred testing question sometimes only after you mark your intention to go test-optional.

And on occasion, the Common Application provides no information relative to graded paper submissions. In this case, you’re on your own to find instructions on a school’s website or wait until the college sends you an email outlining the process.

This might be where the Coalition Application’s Student Locker comes in handy. As part of its package of application tools, the Coalition Application makes the Locker available as an easy-to-use repository for graded papers and other documents related to a student’s high school career. Using the Coalition platform, a student can store and eventually attach papers to applications requesting them.
So how does an applicant find out if a college requires or invites the submission of a graded paper or will accept a paper in lieu of test scores?

This is where it’s to a student’s benefit to research and compare different application formats accepted by individual colleges. The best place to start is the school website, where allowable applications will be listed. And don’t be surprised to find multiple applications used by a single college, including the Common App, the Universal College Application (UCA), the Coalition Application, the Cappex Application, a school-based online application and/or a paper version of the same.

Although it may take a little time, it’s often worth the effort to investigate the requirements of each application because they may differ significantly. And you should pick the application that is easiest to use and best represents your credentials.

A number of Common Application member colleges list on their websites other application forms, some of which allow students to substitute graded papers for essays—even when the Common Application does not. For example, the University of Chicago allows a graded paper to be substituted for an essay, but only for those students using the Coalition Application.

To give you an idea of how complicated these questions can be, here are some Common App member colleges that provided for paper submissions (graded or otherwise) during 2017-18:
  • Agnes Scott (Test Optional)
  • Amherst College
  • Augustana, IL (Test Optional)
  • Austin College (Test Optional)
  • Baldwin-Wallace (Test Optional)
  • Bard College (Homeschool)
  • Bard College Berlin
  • Bennington College (Dimensional Application)
  • Bloomfield College
  • Brandeis (Writing Supplement—test flexible)
  • Butler University (international)
  • Caldwell University (Website)
  • Cedar Crest College (online application)
  • Chatham University (Test Optional)
  • College of Saint Rose (Website)
  • Daemen College (Website)
  • Elizabethtown College (Website)
  • Emerson College ( students deferred )
  • Fairfield University
  • Franklin and Marshall (Test Optional)
  • George Washington University (for writing-intensive majors)
  • Gettysburg College (homeschooled)
  • Green Mountain College (Test Optional)
  • Hiram College (Website)
  • Hood College (international)
  • Hampshire College (Writing Supplement)
  • Kings College (Website)
  • Lake Erie College (Website)
  • Lewis and Clark (Test Optional)
  • Lynchburg College (Website)
  • Marietta College (Website)
  • Marlboro College (Writing Supplement)
  • Muhlenberg (Test Optional)
  • Niagara University (Website)
  • Oberlin College (Homeschool)
  • Quest University-Canada
  • Roanoke College (Test Optional)
  • Saint Leo University (Test Optional)
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Stetson University
  • St. Olaf College (Coalition Application)
  • University of Chicago (Coalition Application)
  • University of Scranton (Website)
  • University of the Sciences (Website)
  • Ursinus College (international applicants)
  • Washington College (Website)
  • Wheaton College MA (Website)
Other colleges that offered the graded paper option last year included Catawba College, Hellenic College, Point Park University, the University of Baltimore, and the University of Oregon (alternate admission process). And the Ohio University Honors Tutorial College asks for “samples of graded papers in Spanish with at least two pages of writing with teacher comments.”

Princeton promises to provide “further information regarding how to submit a graded paper” on their website sometime later in the summer. Note that Princeton accepts both the Coalition Application and the UCA in addition to the Common App.

And here’s a tip for underclassmen: begin saving or setting aside good examples of graded papers. You never know when they might come in handy.

Jul 1, 2018

UCA and the Coalition Application officially launch for 2018-19

Virginia Tech will be Coalition 'exclusive' for 2018-19

It's launch day for both the Universal College Application (UCA) and the Coalition Application. Don’t expect fireworks or a marching band. These milestones usually sneak past without much in the way of fanfare. And why would that be? It’s mostly because while the platforms may be fully ready to accept completed online documents for fall 2019, individual colleges might not be ready to open their 2018-2019 applications quite yet. It's sort of like Opening Day without the teams.

And why wouldn’t the teams show up? Sometimes it’s a matter of technology. Colleges may not have been able to get enrollment management technology to link-up with the application platforms. Or it can be a simple matter of organization—colleges aren’t geared-up yet for the next application cycle. They haven’t updated the rules or written the essay prompts for the coming year.

In many instances, they might not have finished filling the class they hope to welcome this September. Or they philosophically disapprove of students getting a jump on their applications too early in the summer. This is even though it’s easy to see the entire process is starting earlier and earlier, with increasing numbers of colleges moving early deadlines to October 15 or notifying applicants of decisions under rolling admissions policies not long into the fall.

But quite frequently, the failure to launch on Opening Day amounts to a courtesy nod to the Common Application, which will go live for 2018-19 on August 1. Some admissions folks think launching on either the UCA or the Coalition Application platform before the Common App is ready to go, places the Common App at an unfair disadvantage. And they don’t want to do that.

But that shouldn’t stop us from celebrating the work that’s gone into getting the platforms ready for 2018-19. For over a decade, the UCA has offered an application that colleges have come to value in terms of responsiveness and outstanding service. Applicants love it because of the quality of technology it has ALWAYS offered, including the ability to "upload" personal statements and to provide live links to online media within the body of the application. Included among the very loyal institutions participating in the UCA are Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and Johns Hopkins. It’s a bit of a secret, but the UCA actually launched on Friday. The administrators like to know that everything is in tip-top working condition before the publicly-announced Opening Day. And sources tell me that eager beavers among the prospective college class of 2023 have already begun submitting applications!!

The Coalition is in its third year of operation and is introducing a number of welcome improvements for 2018-19. Among the most visible are revisions in the extracurricular and self-reported courses and grades components—nothing that will affect students who have already begun these sections of the application. Also, the easy-to-use fee waiver now includes Veterans among those eligible for an automatic waiver. But the big news is that in addition to the University of Maryland, University of Florida, and University of Washington, Virginia Tech is going Coalition exclusive for the coming year. As of this morning, the only three Coalition colleges ready to accept fall 2019 applications are Texas A & M, Trinity University and the University of South Florida. The rest of the open Coalition applications are for fall 2018—yes, a significant number of colleges are still accepting applications for this September. But the numbers of colleges opening Coalition applications will change over the coming weeks as they get organized and ready to meet the fans patiently waiting in the stands.

There’s always excitement in the air on Opening Day, even for application platforms. It’s the official start of a process that will take months to fully play out and often ends in unexpected ways.  But for now, it's more fun thinking about the upcoming holiday and there's really no reason to jump into anything but the pool.

Jan 30, 2018

Coalition prompts won’t change for 2018-19—applicants are invited to think outside the textbox

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success announced last week that Coalition essay questions will not be changing for 2018-19.  

“As you introduce the college application process to new students and parents, please know that the Coalition Essay questions will remain the same for next year,” advised Annie Reznik, the Coalition’s executive director in a message targeted to college counselors.

This announcement follows a similar one from the Common Application advising that prompts for the Common App personal statement would also remain the same in the fall. Not surprisingly, the decision not to make modifications to either set of prompts was most welcome in an industry that’s become increasingly exhausted by what seems to be continuous change.

In fact, the prompts for the two applications are not terribly different from one another.  They seem to be trying to get at the same kinds of responses. AND both sets of prompts provide a “topic of your choice” option—a great fallback position for essays that don’t quite answer one of the questions posed.

But looks can be deceiving. The wise applicant will closely review the two sets of prompts and think about how differences in instructions and allowable format may have an impact on the way an essay appears or presents itself to the reader.

At a minimum, consider the allowable length. The Common App, last year, set essay length at between 250 and 650 words. This restriction was firmly enforced by limiting essay submission to a textbox, maintaining a hard word cutoff as well as inviting a handful of quirks and formatting issues.
The Coalition, on the other hand, allowed colleges to set their own word limits and choose whether to locate the essay in a textbox among college-specific questions or in the upload section of the application. 

Note that not everyone is totally sold on the idea of giving colleges so much freedom to structure their applications how they wished, because it potentially caused confusion and/or resulted in extra work for applicants. But others saw the Coalition as providing an opportunity for applicants to think outside the textbox and produce essays with attractive fonts, symbols, links to online media and illustrations.

With an upload, hard word cutoffs don’t really exist. Instead of word or character counts, the essay is generally limited by kilobytes (KB). The essay may be converted to a PDF, thereby guaranteeing that it looks the way the applicant wants it to look and allowing readers to click live links provided within the text.

The Common App used to do it that way, and the Universal College App has always given students the choice of whether to use the textbox or upload their essays. The Cappex Application provides for a similar choice. So while the Common App might be the most visible and familiar of the application providers, it’s clearly in the minority when it comes to flexibility in formatting the personal statement.

During the 2017-18 application cycle, about 55 Coalition members out of 102 with live applications used Coalition prompts and located the essay in the upload section. Only about 15 members located personal statements in textboxes. A handful slavishly reproduced Common App requirements by not only locating personal statements in textboxes but exactly replicating prompts and word limits. And when asked why, colleges uniformly responded that they thought it was only fair to stick to one set of rules.

Agree or disagree with colleges giving students a choice of applications as well as application formats and requirements, it’s important to be aware of differences—advantages as well as disadvantages. While neither application has so far announced major platform changes for the coming year, it may make sense to simply consider the difference between an essay confined to a textbox vs. one that encourages creativity through an upload.

For the record, the 2018-19 Coalition essay questions are as follows:
  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Jan 26, 2018

UVa increases early admission offers to 6,000 for the Class of 2022

Early applicants to the University of Virginia’s Class of 2022 received decisions yesterday—somewhat ahead of the January 31st published release date.  

In honor of Dean Greg Robert’s birthday, the admissions office decided to give 6000 prospective ‘Hoos some very good news.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Dean Greg Roberts’ birthday than to have some new Hoos join the UVA community,” said Dean J, associate dean of admission Jeannine Lalonde, in her admissions blog.

And it’s clear that admission to the Commonwealth’s flagship university remains a highly sought-after prize among high school students—both from within the state and across the country.

With an enrollment target set at 3,725 first year students for fall 2018, the competition for admission under UVa’s nonbinding early action program continues to be intense, as the overall number of applications grew to 21,573—about a six percent increase over numbers reported the same time last year.

Predictably, most of the early applicants, 15,676 (or 73 percent) came from out of state. The balance—5,897 applicants—came from within Virginia.

Out of this year’s early action pool, 6000 students were admitted—about two percent more than for the Class of 2021. Of those admitted, 2,618 were from Virginia (44 percent offer rate—down three percentage points from last year), and 3,382 were from out of state (21.5 percent offer rate—about the same as last year). Typically, more offers are made to nonresidents because the yield among students faced with out-of-state tuition is significantly lower. 

According to Dean J, those offered early admission bids were very well qualified. The middle range of new  SAT scores among this year’s admitted students fell between 1360 and 1500 for Virginians (ACT between 31 and 34) and 1440-1540 for nonresidents (ACT between 33 and 35). 

Although over 10,000 students were denied admission during the first round of consideration, about 5300 were thrown a lifeline by being deferred to the regular decision pool. Overall 37,188 students applied for spots in this year’s entering class, nearly 60 percent of whom came through EA. 

Decisions for deferred students and those applying regular decision should arrive sometime before April 1. Note that deferred applicants are specifically encouraged to send new test scores and midyear grades as soon as possible.

All students will have until May 1, to make up their minds. And those early applicants who were lucky enough to be admitted to UVa’s Class of 2022 can expect to receive significant encouragement to commit as soon as possible.