Sep 4, 2020

Resumes may be more valuable than ever for students without test scores

Note: This is an update of an article posted in past years

High school students who invest time creating resumes may be handsomely rewarded in the

college admission process. Of the Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, over 300* — or more than one-third — have made specific provisions for submitting this handy document.

Resumes haven’t always been so popular. In fact, there remains a lingering controversy over the appropriateness of asking students to develop and maintain resumes throughout high school. And a few colleges are quite deliberate about not including them as part of their applications.

In her college admissions blog for the University of Virginia, Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde makes a point of repeating, “The Common App allows each college to turn the resume function of the app on or off. It is OFF for UVA. UVA does not accept resumes. The application presents information in a systematic format, which allows us to zero in on pertinent information quickly.”

On its website, Tufts clearly states, “Keep in mind that the Common Application is your one chance to show your extracurricular engagements: we are not able to accept a supplemental resume of activities.” And the University of Miami agrees, “Applicants should not submit additional resumes. Although the Common Application limits the number of activities you may report, this is typically more than enough space for most competitive applicants to communicate their most important and relevant commitments.”

But they are in the minority, and many college advisers and lots of colleges very much disagree, especially as everyone scrambles to find new sources of information to enhance a “holistic” review of applicants not submitting test scores.

On its face, a resume represents an opportunity to collect, keep track of and reflect on accomplishments. And it’s likely to be a document the student will maintain, using different formats and styles, through college and beyond.

But beyond “telling” the story of a student’s career throughout high school, a thoughtfully constructed resume will also “show” the kinds of nonquantifiable character traits colleges are increasingly anxious to capture and evaluate in the admissions process. For example, the length of time a student participates in an activity can show persistence. A job title or position might suggest leadership. Carefully chosen action verbs describing an activity might portray responsibility, organization, creativity or self-motivation. The “look” of a resume might also suggest attention to detail—or not!

And recognizing the power of this document to provide this kind of information, a number of colleges specifically refer to the resume as required, recommended or encouraged for students applying without test scores.

But there’s no reason to include a resume 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 a number of colleges or programs outside of the Common App system do, including Georgetown University and the College of Charleston Honors College.

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. A new field was added this year that allows 100 characters to identify the organization name and possibly location. A third field allows 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any distinctions you earned.

The Coalition provides space for Activities/Experience in the Profile section of the application. Students may enter up to eight activities and are asked to specify “the two experiences outside of your academic program that are most important to you.” For each activity, the student is allowed 64 characters for the activity/experience name (Cashier, Wegmans Grocery Store, Fairfax VA), as well as 255 characters for “a description of your experience” and an additional 255 characters to “List any individual distinctions you earned in this activity or experience.” 

Students using the Universal College Application (UCA) may enter up to seven “Extracurricular, Personal and Volunteer Activities” and up to five employers or job-related activities for a total of 12 entries. 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 college-specific 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 resume. These include:

  • Boston College
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Bucknell University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • George Mason University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Lafayette College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Northeastern University
  • Northwestern University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Santa Clara University
  • Tulane University
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Vanderbilt University

Coalition members providing for resumes place the option in the Upload section of the application. Some examples are

  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Clemson University
  • Colgate University
  • Florida State University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas-Austin
  • Vassar College
  • Washington University in St. Louis

Note that a handful of Coalition members placed their Additional Information questions in the upload section of the application and seem to invite documents such as resumes. Similarly, the UCA provides for fully-formatted resumes by allowing PDFs to be uploaded in the Additional Information section of the application. But before acting on this plan, it’s wise to check with the college first to see if they’d like a copy of your resume as part of your application for admission. They may not!

In addition to asking outright for a resume, a number of institutions make provisions for an applicant to provide a URL on the Coalition or Common Application. The UCA not only dedicates a question to this, but also makes the response conveniently “clickable” for the application reader. This is another way students may provide a resume on a personal website or via LinkedIn.

And sometimes colleges specify they only want a resume as part of a “portfolio” or “arts supplement” submitted through a separate portal. Columbia University and Princeton University are among those falling into this category.

A resume 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. It can also serve as vehicle for showcasing links to websites, blogs, videos or other online media. And above all, it can provide insight into character traits colleges may very well value above scores.

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

*For a FREE list of colleges providing for resume uploads in 2020-21, email:

Jun 24, 2020

Virginia Tech joins the Common App and keeps requirements the same

Beginning August 1, 2020, students will be able to use the Common Application to apply to Virginia Tech. Long rumored to be in process, the addition of the Common App may expand the reach of Virginia Tech into new markets and potentially attract more applicants, particularly those thinking about coming from out of state to Blacksburg. 

“Over the past two years, our office has transformed the admissions process, making it more accessible for more students. Adding the Common App is the next logical step,” said Director of Admissions Juan Espinoza.

For the past couple of years, Virginia Tech has been one of very few universities exclusively using the Coalition Application. Last year, the University of Florida added the Common App, leaving Tech, the University of Maryland and the University of Washington as the only remaining “Coalition exclusive” schools. And not surprisingly, these large universities represented a significant percentage of Coalition users and cross-over applications. Virginia Tech’s announcement will no doubt affect Coalition utilization. 

While the Coalition Application still remains an option for prospective Hokies, students now have a choice of application platforms to use in 2020-21. According to Espinoza, “it’s important for students to have choices so they can use the application platform that works best for them.”

With the addition of the Common App, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions hopes to not only enlarge but also diversify its applicant pool. Espinoza noted that, “with a record number of underserved and underrepresented students in this fall’s incoming class, adding the Common App will help Virginia Tech continue fulfilling its mission of partnering with students from the commonwealth, the nation, and the world in a top-tier educational experience.”

As one of the newest members of the Common App, Virginia Tech will not be changing its basic application requirements. The Common App’s personal statement will not be required nor will it be considered in the admissions process. Virginia Tech will not require teacher or counselor recommendations to be submitted. 

And, Virginia Tech will not be changing the four short answer questions (120 words) used the last two years. These will be found in the member-specific section of the application and are:
  • Virginia Tech’s motto is "Ut Prosim" which means 'That I May Serve'.  We are interested in learning more about your interests and how you have been involved and/or served. Briefly describe a group, organization, or community that you have been involved with.
  • Describe a situation where you were involved or witness to an act of discrimination. How, or did, you respond?
  •  Describe an example of a situation where you have significantly influenced others, took on a leadership role, helped resolve a dispute, or contributed to a group’s goals.
  • Briefly describe a personal goal you have set for yourself. Why this goal, what is your timeline to achieve this goal, what precipitated this goal?
With regard to the optional COVID-19 question added by the Common App this year, Espinoza advises that, “We will read that information if submitted. Coalition is asking a similar question and we will review that information in the same way.”

Keeping all things equal, Tech will launch both the Common App and the Coalition Application on August 1.

Virginia Tech will be joining well over 900 colleges and universities that use the Common Application and is no doubt among the more welcome of the new additions for 2020-21.

Jun 14, 2020

The Common App Welcomes 42 New Members for 2020-21

Loyola University Chicago
The Common Application recently announced the addition of 42 new members to a roster of what will be well over 900 colleges and universities accepting the Common App for 2020-2021. The popular online platform and college planning website annually serves and supports over three million students, teachers and counselors in the U.S. and around the world. And with the addition of several well-known institutions including Auburn University, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, Loyola University Chicago, Tuskegee University, and the University of Georgia, these numbers are bound to increase significantly.

“Through these unprecedented times, these 42 colleges and universities continue to help forge a direct and unambiguous path to a viable future for all students, and reduce barriers to college access for underserved students. We are honored to welcome them into our membership,” said Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of Common App. “Thanks to our diverse membership, all students, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to apply to the colleges or universities that will help them achieve their best future.”

Membership in The Common Application is open to colleges sharing the organization’s mission of advancing college access and must be
  • Not-for-profit
  • Undergraduate degree-granting
  • Accredited by an association recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education
  • If located outside the U.S., a member of the Council of International Schools
  • Committed to the pursuit of access, equity and integrity in the college admission process
Member institutions are no longer required to also 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) was also dropped to accommodate a wider variety of member institutions.

 As a result, Common App membership before new members are included includes
  • Colleges from all 50 states plus Washington, DC
  • 419+ colleges with no application fee
  • 78% with admission rates greater than 50%
  • Over 230 public universities
  • Over 50 minority-serving institutions and 10 historically black colleges
  • 28 women’s colleges and 3 all-male institutions
  • 45 Hispanic-serving institutions
  • 60 international universities in 20 countries
  • Over 630 accepting transfer applications
But the Common App isn’t the only online application from which students can choose. They may consider the Coalition Application or the Universal College Application (UCA), which was welcomed last year by Harvard, Cornell and Princeton. The Common Black College Application enables students to apply to any number or combination of 55 HBCUs for a single low fee. The QuestBridge National College Match application is currently welcomed by 42 highly selective colleges and universities. And a significant number of colleges use a variety of school-based applications created specifically to meet their institutional needs.

With all these different application platforms, it’s not unusual for a college or university to offer two or more options for prospective students. While the Common App remains by far the most popular of the platforms, it’s usually worth investigating how other applications are structured and what specific questions are asked. There can be significant differences some of which might provide better vehicles for presenting credentials.

But the Common App can’t be beat for its reach into a variety of academic communities. And among the new member colleges and universities offering the Common Application for 2020-2021 are:
Arkansas Baptist College (AR)
Auburn University (AL)
Augusta University (GA)
Baker College (MI)
Bethel University (MN)
Bryn Athyn College (PA)
Buena Vista University (IA)
Carlow University (PA)
Clemson University (SC)
Coastal Carolina University (SC)
Cornerstone University (MI)
Fresno Pacific University (CA)
Holy Family University (PA)
Indiana Wesleyan University (IN)
Lake Superior State University (MI)
Lees-McRae University (NC)
Loyola University Chicago (IL)
Medaille College (NY)
Milligan University (TN)
New College of the Humanities, London
Norfolk State University (VA)
Northern Illinois University (IL)
Palm Beach Atlantic University (FL)
Richard Bland College of William and Mary (VA)
Spalding University (KY)
Texas Tech University (TX)
Trevecca Nazarene University (TN)
Tuskegee University (AL)
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (CO)
University of Georgia (GA)
University of Louisville (KY)
University of South Florida (FL)
University of Texas at Dallas (TX)
University of Texas at San Antonio (TX)
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (WI)
Wilmington College (OH)
Winthrop University (SC)