|Amherst College invites graded papers in lieu of one essay.|
Colleges use a number of 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 require one or more essays as part of an application for admission.
Some colleges factor in SAT or ACT writing scores during their evaluations. Less frequently, they might even download and review an essay written for a standardized test.
And a handful of colleges invite or require the submission of a “graded” paper in lieu of an essay or as part of additional requirements for test-optional/test-flexible admissions.
At last count, no less than 40 Common Application member colleges, including Agnes Scott, Amherst, Brandeis, and Sarah Lawrence, have made provision for uploading or otherwise receiving graded papers.
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 their 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.”
But 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.
Some counselors recommend including a cover sheet including 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 need to figure out how to send it, as colleges vary enormously on how they prefer to receive graded papers—upload, U.S. mail, fax, or email.
“Because there is plenty of variability in the requirements for graded papers, students are left to figure out not only which paper(s) to submit, but also whether or not they meet the various file size requirements, the types of files accepted, the preferred method of submitting, and if the context of the graded paper should be included or not,” said Denise Baylis, an independent educational consultant based in New Rochelle, New York.
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 “First-Year 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 Center” column to the right of the college-specific preferred testing question usually after you mark your intention to go test-optional. Or a stealth essay might be added in another part of the application—most often the writing supplement.
And sometimes, the Common Application provides no information relative to paper submissions. In this case, you're on your own to find instructions on a school’s website.
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 an essay?
The best place is within the admissions requirements listed on a college website. Many Common Application member colleges have “alternate” application forms (sometimes paper), which allow students to substitute graded papers for essays—even when the Common Application doesn’t.
And take an extra hard look at colleges that are test-optional as a number of them invite graded papers.
Here are some Common App member colleges that provide for graded paper submissions:
- Agnes Scott (Member Question upload)
- Albright College (Website)
- Amherst (Writing Supplement)
- Augustana, IL (Link on My Colleges)
- Baldwin-Wallace (Writing Supplement)
- Bennington (Member Question upload and/or instructions on Website)
- Brandeis (Writing Supplement)
- Butler (Website)
- Caldwell University (Website)
- Cedar Crest College (Website: paper application)
- Chatham (Writing Supplement)
- College of Saint Rose (Website)
- Daemen College (Website)
- Elizabethtown College (Website)
- Eugene Lang (Website)
- Fairfield (Member Question upload)
- Franklin and Marshall (Link on My Colleges/note on Instructions & Help Center)
- Gettysburg College (Website: homeschooled applicants and possibly others)
- Green Mountain (Writing Supplement)
- Guilford (Instructions & Help Center)
- Hood College (Website)
- Hampshire College (Writing Supplement)
- Juniata College (Instructions & Help Center: 2 graded papers emailed)
- King’s College (Link on My Colleges)
- Lewis and Clark (Link on My Colleges/Instructions & Help Center)
- Marietta College (Website)
- Muhlenberg (Instructions & Help Center)
- Saint Leo University (Instructions & Help Center; Website)
- Sarah Lawrence (Member Question upload)
- Siena College (Website)
- SUNY Plattsburgh (Website)
- Stetson (Writing Supplement)
- St. John Fisher College (Website)
- Susquehanna (Website only: “Write Option”)
- University of Scranton (Website; Instructions & Help Center)
- University of the Sciences (Website)
- Ursinus (Writing Supplement)
- Wheaton (Link on My Colleges)
- Oberlin (part of the home school portfolio Member Question upload)
- Valparaiso University (Website: paper application)
Other colleges offering the graded paper option include Catawba College, Franklin Pierce University, and the University of Baltimore.
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!