Sep 7, 2015

Important changes to the Common App school counselor recommendation system you should know about

The University of Michigan does NOT require Counselor Recommendations
A couple of years ago, the Common Application announced that counselors would be allowed to officially opt out of providing written evaluations on behalf of students by simply checking a box on the School Report Form indicating they were either too busy or not personally familiar enough with seniors in their caseloads to write some recommendations.

And an interesting secret was revealed.  Evidently school counselors didn’t always provide written recommendations—even when requested—for students applying to Common Application member colleges.

In fact, it happened often enough for the Common App to devise a way of simplifying the process of opting out and letting colleges know when to stop waiting for something that just plain wasn’t coming.

This year, the process has changed slightly.  Starting with the 2015-16 application year, the Common Application revised the options for submitting counselor letters of recommendation as follows:

  • Member colleges can choose to require or not require a counselor letter of recommendation.  In fact, according to the Common App Requirement Grid, an astonishing 228 member colleges and universities are NOT requiring counselor recommendations.
  • The letter of recommendation was removed from the School Report and incorporated into a new Counselor Recommendation form that is submitted separately—only after the School Report has been completed and submitted.
  • Counselors will always have the option to send a Counselor Recommendation to a college whether it’s required or not.
  • The Recommendation System will remain a “one-and-done” process.  Once a counselor submits any school form—including the School report and the new Counselor Recommendation—that form will be made available to the student’s college as soon as the student submits the application to that college.

According to the Common Application, the separation of the School Report form from the Counselor Recommendation form came at the request of school counselors.  Within the new form, a counselor may provide answers to the following prompts:

  • The duration and context in which you’ve known the applicant (short response)
  • The first words that come to mind to describe the applicant (short response)
  • A broad-based assessment addressing topics like academic and personal characteristics, contextual comments for the applicant’s performance and involvement, and/or observed problematic behaviors that an admissions committee should explore further (long response)

For those familiar with the old School Report, the Counselor Recommendation essentially removes the “Written evaluation” section of the School Report and creates a standalone form from it.  

The new School Report continues to ask for general student evaluations and ultimately asks how enthusiastically the school counselor recommends the student for college admission—not a specific college, but colleges in general.  The form still cannot be tailored.

Breaking out the Counselor Recommendation from the School Report has one very important advantage for the applicant.  Instead of not knowing whether the school counselor privately opted out of providing a written evaluation by checking a box on the School Report, the applicant may now clearly see if and when the School Report and the Counselor Recommendation were submitted by simply going to the Recommenders and FERPA section of any application on their list.

By clicking on college names within the My Colleges section of the application, the applicant can also see if the college expects and requires both the School Report and the Counselor Recommendation.  The new system provides applicants the opportunity to follow-up with counselors if the Counselor Recommendation is not submitted.  If the counselor is unable or unwilling to provide the written evaluation, the applicant may then be free to ask another administrator within the school to write and submit it through the system.

Although most colleges have indicated they would like a counselor or other school administrator to provide written evaluations in addition to School Reports, according to the Common App Requirement Grid, almost 230 member colleges and universities have elected NOT to require the Counselor Recommendation.  These include:

  • Beloit College
  • Catholic University
  • DePaul University
  • Georgia Tech
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Jacksonville University
  • Juniata College
  • Marquette University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Old Dominion University
  • Pitzer College
  • Purdue University
  • Temple University
  • Roanoke College
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Michigan
  • West Virginia University

 As always, be sure to check with individual school websites to verify application requirements.

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