Nov 25, 2013

When Colleges invite Graded Papers

Amherst College invites the submission of graded papers

Colleges look for evidence of an applicant’s writing skill in a number of different places. 
They 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 a stand-alone component of an application.

At last count, no less than 22 Common Application member colleges, including Amherst, Brandeis, Sarah Lawrence, and Agnes Scott, have made provision for uploading or including graded papers within Writing Supplements or through separate submissions available via their websites.

And it’s not such a bad idea.

"Requests for graded writing samples are becoming increasingly common among colleges, demonstrating a move toward a more holistic evaluation of applicants beyond test scores,” explained Daniel Stern of College Essay Organizer.  “Graded papers allow applicants to showcase their writing and reasoning skills on their own terms—the SAT and ACT essays are a bit of a joke and aren’t taken that seriously by colleges because of how they are scored."

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.

But it’s not always easy to discover if a college is inviting a graded paper and how it should be submitted, particularly through the Common Application.

Although the new Common App offers flexible tools within the Writing Supplement for uploading a graded paper, a number of colleges have mysteriously chosen to forgo this option.  

For these members, the Common App may provide a very easy-to-miss link on the "My Colleges" page under “Test Policy.”  If you follow the link, you will generally be given instructions for submitting the paper, usually via mail, email, or fax.  

To make things even more challenging, sometimes a link shows up within the Common App “Knowledgebase.”   This clue appears under the “Help Center” column to the right of the college-specific preferred testing question after you mark your intention to go test-optional.

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.  

"Even when the option to submit a graded writing sample is required, as is the case with Bennington College, it does not always appear on the Common Application,” Stern added. “It is listed only on the college's own website, but you're not always told to look there.”

So how does an applicant find out if a college requires 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. And take an extra hard look at colleges that are test-optional as many of them invite graded papers.

But another possibility is to use a service or software that aggregates essay requirements, like College Essay Organizer, which will point you in the direction of schools that allow substitutions as well as provide you with links to specific requirements.

Here are some of the colleges uncovered with the help of College Essay Organizer that provide for graded paper submissions either on their websites or through the Common Application:
  • Agnes Scott (Link on My Colleges)
  • Amherst (Writing Supplement)
  • Augustana, IL (Link on My Colleges)
  • Bennington (Website)
  • Brandeis (Writing Supplement)
  • Chatham (Link on My Colleges)
  • Elmira (Writing Supplement)
  • Eugene Lang (Website)
  • Fairfield (Writing Supplement)
  • Franklin and Marshall (Link on My Colleges/Help Center Knowledgebase)
  • Green Mountain (Writing Supplement)
  • Guilford (Link on My Colleges)
  • Lewis and Clark (Link on My Colleges/Help Center Knowledgebase)
  • Mills (Writing Supplement)
  • Muhlenberg (Help Center Knowledgebase)
  • Sarah Lawrence (Website)
  • Stetson (Writing Supplement)
  • Susquehanna (Website only:  “Write Option”)
  • University of Scranton (Help Center Knowledgebase)
  • Ursinus (Writing Supplement)
  • Wheaton (Link on My Colleges)
  • Oberlin (part of the home school portfolio)
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!

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