Feb 25, 2020

No recommendations, no essays and sometimes no test scores

Central Florida requires no essays or recommendations.
Several years ago, the Common App announced that colleges would no longer be forced to conduct ‘holistic’ reviews of applicants to be members of the Common Application organization. On the simplest level, this was interpreted to mean that members would not have to require recommendations or untimed writing samples (essays) as part of the application process.

The change was enthusiastically greeted by colleges that never required these elements to begin with and wanted to join the Common App, as well as by those institutions that never really considered either the essays or recommendations anyway.  This was especially true of those that offered students very simple alternate applications without either element. 

And for some admissions offices, these requirements were considered unnecessary impediments to attracting large numbers of applications.  For others, the requirements didn’t seem to add much in the way of useful information, which could predict who would be most successful on their campuses.

In fact, the bottom line for everyone—highly selective and not-too-select institutions—is that grades and strength of curriculum are the most important factors in the admissions decision. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has consistently come to the same conclusion in their annual State of College Admission reports, as has the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) in its annual survey of IECs.  This holds true even though there is an acknowledgement that grades can be manipulated, inflated and are often subjective evaluations of student performance.

With new Common App membership requirements in place, a number of colleges and universities immediately took advantage of the moment to drop requirements.  Others simply expanded their application network and joined the Common App. As a result, there are Common App members that have stripped down their application requirements to the point of no essays, no recommendations, and sometimes no test scores.

According to the 2019-20 Common App requirement grid, out of 888 Common App members, about 45% do not require personal statements—the basic Common App essay. And just under 50% require no letters of recommendation (counselor or teacher).

And taking these all together, 327 Common App members require no personal statements, no teacher recommendations, and no counselor recommendations.  Among these are
  • Arizona State University, AZ
  • Christian Brothers University, TN
  • College of Charleston, SC
  • DePaul University, IL
  • Duquesne University, PA
  • Frostburg State University, MD
  • George Mason University, VA
  • Johnson and Wales University (NC, CO, FL, RI)
  • Kent State University, OH
  • Ohio Northern University, OH
  • Old Dominion University, VA
  • Ole Miss—The University of Mississippi, MS
  • Ripon College, WI
  • Roanoke College, VA 
  • University of Arizona, AZ
  • University of Iowa, IA
  • University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, MN
  • University of Pittsburgh, PA
  • University of Utah, UT
  • Valparaiso University, IN
  • West Virginia University, WV
  • Westminster College (MO, PA and UT)
By the way, 196 Common App members require no personal statements, no college-specific supplements, no counselor recommendations and no teacher recommendations—seven in Virginia!

And if you cross-reference this list with the very impressive list of test-optional/test-flexible institutions maintained by FairTest, you’ll find that a few of these schools also don’t require test scores.

So what is the takeaway?  Grades absolutely rule, and transcripts considered together with high school profiles are critical elements of the college admissions process.  In fact, for a fair number of institutions, they are the only criteria used for admissions.

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