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.

Jan 24, 2018

The Common Application announces essay prompts for 2018-19 and looks to the future

Much to the relief of the cottage industry that’s grown up to support college essay preparation, the Common Application recently announced that the 2018-19 prompts for the personal statement will remain the same as the 2017-18 prompts.

According to the Common App, by conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, the organization is able to reach out for feedback from admissions officers, as well as from applicants, parents and counselors about “the effectiveness” of the prompts.

With the early release of the essay prompts and the announcement that student accounts created now will rollover to 2018-19, the Common App is furthering a practice designed to give counselors and others the opportunity to get a jump on preparing students for a process many find increasingly stressful.

At the same time, the Common App’s Board of Directors Strategic Planning Committee has launched an internal “creative and collaborative process” by engaging Tomorrow Partners, a California-based design team, to support a project “to begin reimagining the college preparation and application experience.”

"In this rapidly evolving higher education landscape, we are eager to engage our members, counselors, students, and other important stakeholders in envisioning the Common App’s future in support of its mission to promote access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process,” said Jenny Rickard, Executive Director of The Common Application.

So while essay prompts remain the same for the coming application cycle, it should come as no surprise that the Common Application may be looking to make future changes in product and operations. And unlike the experience of the recent past with CA4, the Common App is bringing in stakeholders early enough to voice opinions and respond to proposed changes long before anything new is launched.

For the record, the 2018-19 Common Application prompts will inspire essays on the following topics:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? 

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

Colleges continue to welcome applicant résumés

Vanderbilt University

High school students who invest time creating résumés may be handsomely rewarded in the college application process. Of 689 Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, at least 224 — or about one-third — have made specific provisions for or even require the submission of this handy document.
This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, there remains a lingering controversy over the appropriateness of asking students to develop and maintain résumés throughout high school. And many colleges are very deliberate about not including them as part of their applications.

In her blog on college admissions at the University of Virginia, Jeanine Lalonde makes a point of repeating every year, “The Common App has a resume upload function and lets each school decide whether they want to use it. We are one of the schools that turned that function off. We prefer the Common App activity section to the various ways people choose to present their activities on resumes.”

But many college advisers and lots of colleges very much disagree.

“Almost as soon as I start guiding a student through college planning, I learn about the student’s interests and hobbies and discuss the importance of extracurricular commitment in and out of school – both for college admission and life enrichment. That naturally leads to an analysis of student engagement and the creation and continual updating of a résumé,” said Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner in Palm Beach and Broward counties, Florida. “The résumé becomes far more than a list of activities. Rather, it highlights a student’s accomplishments about what she has done, why, how, and, most especially, how these actions have impacted lives (hers and others’).”

Robinovitz adds, “Here’s an important secret: when you share a thoughtfully prepared and detailed résumé with anyone who will write a recommendation, you’re likely to get a stronger and more anecdotal piece of writing that supports your application. Plus, through résumé creation now, we lay critical groundwork for undergraduate summer job and internship applications – and ultimately, for graduate school and vocational opportunities.”

In other words, a résumé represents an opportunity to collect, keep track of and reflect on accomplishments. And it’s likely to be a document the student will have to maintain, using different formats and styles, through college and beyond.

Most school-based and independent college counselors agree there’s no reason to include a résumé with a college application if it totally duplicates information contained in other parts of the application, unless of course, the school specifically asks for one. And plenty of colleges outside of the Common App system do, such as Georgetown University, Virginia Tech, MIT and the University of Texas at Austin.

For students using the Common Application, basic extracurricular-related information may be presented in the Activities section, which provides space to describe involvement in ten activities. Within each activity, the Position/Leadership blank allows 50 characters to give a solid indication of your position and the name of the organization in which you participate. A second box allows 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any distinctions you earned.

The Coalition provides space for extracurricular activities in the Profile section of the application. Students may enter up to eight activities and are asked to specify “the two primary activities that have taken up most of your extracurricular time during high school.” For each activity, the student is allowed 64 characters for the activity name (Cashier, Wegmans Grocery Store, Fairfax VA), as well as 255 characters for “one brief sentence describing the primary function of this activity” and an additional 255 characters to “[L]ist any positions/honors/awards received in this activity, if any.”

Students using the Universal College Application (UCA) may enter up to seven “Extracurriculars, Personal and Volunteer Experience[s]” and up to five employers or job-related activities.  While the characters allowed are more limited (35 for extracurricular and 32 for jobs), students are encouraged to provide more details in the Additional Information section.

But for some students, these activities sections are still limiting and don’t provide enough of an opportunity to showcase specific accomplishments or direct attention to relevant online content. In this case, the applicant has a couple of options.
First, check member questions for additional opportunities to provide details about extracurricular activities. This is where some Common App members have made provisions for an upload of a fully-formatted résumé. These include:
  • Boston College
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Bucknell University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Colgate University *
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College*
  • Davidson College**
  • George Mason University
  • George Washington University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University**
  • Kenyon College
  • Lafayette College
  • Macalester College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Northeastern University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Santa Clara University
  • Trinity College
  • Tulane University
  • Union College*
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • University of Pennsylvania*
  • Vanderbilt University*
  • Washington University in St. Louis*
Another option is to see if the college offers an alternate application that allows for résumé uploads. For example, the UCA provides for fully-formatted résumés by allowing PDFs to be uploaded in the Additional Information section of the application. Before going forward with this plan, however, it’s wise to check with the college first to see if they’d like a copy of your résumé as part of your application for admission. They may not!

A résumé can be a very powerful document for pushing your college candidacy forward. It can serve to color between the lines or provide extra detail beyond what may be crammed into a standardized application form.

If given the opportunity, use it. But make sure it reflects well on you and contains accurate and up-to-date information.

*     This school also made provisions for résumé upload on the Coalition Application.
**  This school does not specifically provide for résumé upload on the Coalition Application.

This article originally appeared in Admissions Intel. For a list of colleges requesting an applicant's
résumé, email me at:  Nancy@CollegeExplorations.com

Common App introduces an improvement that largely goes unnoticed

For nearly a decade, the Universal College Application (UCA) has offered students the opportunity to include on their applications a “live” link or URL to online content such as YouTube, LinkedIn, personal websites, blogs, etc. In this regard, the UCA was way ahead of the competition, offering an option that both colleges and students seemed to want.
Pepperdine University

Despite repeated calls to include a similar field on their application, the Common App opted to strengthen partnerships with outside vendors like SlideRoom (frequently charging applicants a separate fee) and resisted signs that colleges were increasingly transitioning to inclusion of digital credentials as part of the admissions process.

With the debut of the Coalition platform, the idea of making digital media available as part of the college application became more institutionalized. Videos, audio presentations and pictures can be easily uploaded to the Student Locker and transferred to applications for colleges requesting them.

And most Coalition colleges opted to also use the upload function for the personal statement—something the Common App dropped a couple of years ago in favor unwieldy “text boxes,” which definitely limit an applicant’s ability to control format, embed live links and use different characters or pictures as part of their essays.

As the Coalition built on a precedent established by the UCA and opened students to the possibility of introducing colleges to their digital sides, the Common App responded by creating a relationship with ZeeMee, originally an online resume-building site high on visuals and low on written content. In the spring of 2016, the Common App introduced the new partnership with an “infomercial” at their annual conference and offered colleges the opportunity to have a field dedicated to ZeeMee included in their “member questions.” A number of colleges accepted the offer, some by stridently advertising for and recruiting students to the ZeeMee platform. Others were moderate in their requests and still fewer (one or two) suggested that students could include a link to ZeeMee or other online media if they chose.

But the times are changing. Without any promotion or advertisement from the Common App, many member colleges adopted the more “generic” URL field in their 2017-18 applications and are using this opportunity to encourage students to provide links to any site—not just ZeeMee. In fact at least 45, or about six percent of Common App members with live applications at this point, intentionally give students a wider opportunity to provide a link to a website of their choosing.

For the record, an additional 125 Common App members (as of this writing) appear to limit their requests to or provide dedicated fields for ZeeMee URLs—some with very strong marketing language.

But this welcome application development seems to have largely gone unnoticed. Perhaps it would be even more welcome if the link were “live” and a reader could click on the URL and go directly to the site—an opportunity the UCA has offered students and admissions readers for close to ten years! Unfortunately, the current state of Common App technology apparently requires readers to copy and paste the URL into an internet browser to access content. Nevertheless, the inclusion of a more general question in the bank of member questions is an acknowledgment of the value of this information to the admissions process.

Here is a sample of Common App members electing to move away from promoting a single site to opening their application to the inclusion of any URL:
  • Antioch College
  • Brown University
  • Centre College
  • Colorado College
  • Earlham College
  • Eckerd College
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Florida Southern College
  • Hampshire College
  • Kenyon College
  • Lafayette College
  • Marist College
  • Occidental College
  • Pepperdine University
  • Pitzer College
  • Texas Christian University
  • Union College
  • WPI
Franklin and Marshall, Hamilton and the University of Mary Washington make similar requests on the Coalition application.

And while the URL requests are fairly generic and don’t steer applicants in any particular direction, the award for best wording by a Common App member goes to the University of Mary Washington:

“Some applicants maintain an electronic profile (such as ZeeMee) that exhibits talents, creativity or other information to share with the Admissions Committee. If you maintain such a site, and would like the Admissions Committee to view it, please enter the URL here.”

The cleverest college award goes to SUNY Purchase, which gets around the deficiency in Common App technology by instructing applicants to be creative about uploading a document containing a link:

For video submissions, post your video to YouTube or Vimeo and submit a document here with the URL link to the video.”

Note: For the nearly one-third of Common App members providing for submission of fully-formatted résumés, you can include URLs on those documents, upload them as PDFs and assume the links will be conveyed as live, thereby providing direct access to any online content you wish readers to see. Click here for more information on colleges that welcome your résumé.

This article originally appeared in Admissions Intel.

‘Early decision’ stats every applicant should see

Claremont McKenna College
Binding early decision (ED) is one of several tools colleges employ to control evaluative metrics like “selectivity” and  “yield” used by outside organizations seeking to rank or otherwise pass judgement on the quality of an institution.

By agreeing to apply ED to any one of many schools offering these plans, students are promising to attend an institution if admitted.  In other words, they are not only giving up the freedom to choose among future offers of admission but they are also providing colleges with virtually a 100 percent chance of “yielding” them into the institution.

And for colleges concerned about where they stand on the U.S. News pecking order of “best” colleges, this is a powerful device for crafting a class “to spec.”  So important, in fact, that much time is spent tinkering with enrollment management strategies to ensure optimal effectiveness of these plans.  And make no mistake.  Effectiveness is assessed by how well it works for the institution and not for the applicant.

Some of the considerations that go into deciding how to structure an early decision policy include target students (legacies, athletes, top academics) and their credentials, deadlines, percent of class to be filled, and what the competition is doing.

In other words, early decision gives colleges a great deal of control and they love it.  Even those schools publicly professing concern about the level of stress the admission process is causing high school students are quietly increasing the percent of class filled by these plans, moving deadlines around, and adding clever alternatives like ED II—a second chance to pledge undying love to an institution and guarantee a yield for the class.

So how can the average applicant regain some small part of control over a process that looks to be increasingly out of control?  First, by understanding what benefits colleges offer in terms of admissions advantage for early decision candidates. Obviously, a successful applicant will have a decision and lock in their college long before others in the regular decision pool. That’s good, but more importantly, some colleges sweeten the deal by appearing to admit a greater percent of early decision applicants. These schools might argue that the early decision pool is typically very strong and represents the best and most committed applicants.

The ED pool can also contain a disproportionate number of target students (athletes and legacies) making analysis of the admissions advantage even more complicated. But the deciding factor could ultimately be how much of the entering class is filled early decision. If that number approaches or exceeds 50 percent, an applicant electing not to go that route may be severely disadvantaged.

Other issues confuse the early decision strategy, and many of those focus on financial aid. Despite what they say, it’s hard to believe that a college that has admitted a student through early decision has much incentive to provide an overly generous financial aid package either in terms of total dollar amount or composition—balance of grant aid vs. loans and work study.

It’s only by understanding policies, gathering facts about how colleges use early decision and reviewing outcomes that students can begin to decide if applying early is in their best interests.
To help counselors as well as students and their families analyze and compare various early decision plans, Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy have assembled an amazing chart documenting early decision vs. regular decision acceptance rates at colleges and universities offering early decision.  They are making the chart available, free of charge, on their respective websites (see instructions below on how to access the chart).

“What we have learned from the data we compiled was that several trends in college admission are more concerning than we thought,” said Jeff Levy, an independent educational consultant (IEC) based in Los Angeles. “But we also found institutions standing firm against these trends and we were encouraged.  It turns out that the only generalization that holds true is that college advisers must really know the schools they are recommending or risk misleading students when talking to them about their chance of admission.”

The chart, based on data that is readily available to anyone taking the time to do the research, is organized alphabetically by college or can be downloaded and sorted by individual criteria.
According to Jennie Kent, an IEC working in Bogotá, Colombia, “This chart includes four main metrics:  early decision acceptance rate, regular decision acceptance rate,  percent of class filled from early decision, and the ratio of ED to RD acceptance rates.”

You won’t find anything like this analysis anywhere else. Levy and Kent meticulously research the data and spend hours putting it together. They provide an incomparable service to anyone with a need to know or desire to understand.

And some of their findings are startling.  For example, some schools give a very large advantage during early decision (ED vs. RD) include:
  • Claremont McKenna College: 32% ED to 7% RD
  • American University: 85% ED to 23% RD
  • Middlebury College: 43% ED to 13% RD
  • University of Pennsylvania: 23% ED to 7% RD
Some schools go in the opposite direction and actually have a lower admit rate for early decision:
  • University of Denver:  31% ED to 54% RD
  • Southern Methodist University (SMU): 31% ED to 50% RD
  • Virginia Tech: 47% ED to 74% RD
  • Goucher College: 67% ED to 79% RD
  • Northeastern University: 27% ED to 29% RD
  • NYU – 30% ED to 32% RD
Some schools practice a more equitable balance:
  • Carnegie Mellon University: 26% ED to 21% RD
  • Boston University: 32% ED to 29% RD
  • Brandeis University: 35% ED to 34% RD
Some schools fill a huge percent of their class early decision:
  • Claremont McKenna College: 68%
  • Bates College: 66%
  • Middlebury College: 66%
  • Carleton College: 64%
  • Others that fill more than 50% of their class from ED include Davidson, Washington and Lee, Vanderbilt, Wesleyan, Penn, Lehigh and Emory
Others—not so much:
  • Clark University: 5%
  • Goucher College: 5%
  • Northeastern University: 9%
  • Ithaca College: 10%
  • Ohio Wesleyan University: 10%
  • University of Denver: 11%
  • SMU: 17%
  • Carnegie Mellon University: 22%
And the schools with some of the lowest early decision admit rates include:
  • Harvey Mudd College: 18%
  • Pomona College: 20%
  • Brown University:  22%
  • Rice University:  23%
  • University of Pennsylvania:  23%
  • Duke University: 24%
  • Vanderbilt University: 24%
This is all enormously valuable information to use when making the decision whether or not to commit to an early decision application.
To access the complete chart, visit either one of Jennie Kent’s or Jeff Levy’s websites: