Tag Archives: common application

The Role of Your Counselor Recommendation

Most colleges request a letter of recommendation from your high school guidance counselor. This letter serves a unique function in the college admissions process. The counselor is expected to describe your high school environment, place you within the context of your peers, and discuss your unique attributes. “Many college and university admission officers use the counselor recommendation to learn more about the school and the community of the student applying for admission,” says Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president and dean of admissions at New York University.

While your teachers will focus on your academic strengths, your counselor can provide insights about your character, values, and goals. As stated by Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, recommendations “help us look past the numbers and learn more about who the student is.”

Hamilton College’s admissions office advises counselors to “take the time to tell us things we wouldn’t learn elsewhere in the student’s application… To be sure, the single most important factor in our decision-making process is the high school transcript. But your comments and insight provide us with perspective and help us assess fit with our community.”

What questions are asked of counselors?

Beginning with the 2015-16 application year, the Common Application developed a new form for counselors to complete. The Counselor Form consists of several prompts to help admissions officers learn more about who you are as a person and as a student:

  • 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)

Understanding the recommendation process

The ratio of students per guidance counselor varies widely around the country, but the average is a staggering 476 students per guidance counselor. At most public high schools, there is no dedicated college counselor; instead, guidance counselors incorporate college advising within all their other academic and disciplinary responsibilities.

Some high schools have put procedures in place to help counselors obtain personalized information on students. At Midwood High School, in Brooklyn, which has two counselors for 800 seniors, the guidance office prepares a folder for each senior that includes their contact information, test scores, teacher recommendations, a student profile and autobiographical essay, and a “parent brag sheet” with anecdotal information.

But not all high schools have such an organized and comprehensive system for collecting personalized information about seniors. As a result, the more you can do to help your counselor understand who you are personally, the more effective his or her recommendation letter will be.

How can you help your counselor describe you as effectively as possible?

The strongest recommendations paint a well-rounded portrait of who you are. With that in mind, here are some tips:

Develop and maintain a strong relationship with your guidance counselor. Make regular appointments throughout each school year. Keep your counselor informed of your achievements in academics and activities. In the fall of senior year, stop by to discuss how you spent your summer.

Create a detailed resume that describes your extracurricular activities, internships, employment, and volunteer work in detail. Try to be as descriptive and authentic as possible, and don’t use generic phrases.

Write a 1-2 page letter to your counselor describing your strengths, values, and goals—if your counselor does not ask you to complete a form or essays. Reflect on the following questions, and provide thoughtful responses. If possible, provide specific anecdotes to illustrate your points:

  • What are a few significant experiences that have influenced who you are today?
  • What obstacles or challenges have you been faced with, and how did you overcome these?
  • How do you approach your schoolwork?
  • What are your relationships like with peers, teachers, and advisors?
  • How have you improved your community?
  • What academic areas of study in college interest you? How do these areas relate to your academic accomplishments in high school?
  • Do you have specific career goals at this point?

In addition, provide your counselor with a list of colleges you are currently considering applying to, as well as specialized academic programs if applicable.

For guidance on recommendations and other aspects of the college admissions process, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

College Application Platforms

There are several different online platforms through which universities accept applications. While the Common Application is still the strong favorite, the Coalition Application seems to be gaining in popularity, and the Universal College Application has several interesting features.

All of these platforms allow students to create a centralized college application and use it to apply to several colleges, saving time. Each online application approach includes an applicant profile, list of member colleges, checklist to see the status of applications, and application requirements; but the overall look and formatting differs.

Colleges decide which platform(s) they wish to accept, and this blog will be your guide to understanding the differences between all of them. At the end, we will recommend a course of action.

Common Application

Accepted by over 750 member colleges, the Common Application (CA) is still the most popular platform for the college application process. Most members are in the U.S., but an increasing number of colleges around the world are accepting the Common App, including schools from Canada, China, and the UK (including St Andrews, King’s College London, and the University of Glasgow).

Additionally, the Common App has a rollover feature that conveniently allows students to begin working on their profile before August 1 of their senior year. The platform is user-friendly and has been around for a while, so many high school counselors and educators are well-versed in using it.

Universal College Application

The Universal College Application (UCA) was launched in 2007 as an alternative to the Common App, and currently has 23 member colleges. The only schools that exclusively use UCA (and not the Common App) are the University of Charleston (WV), Fischer College, Landmark College, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

The UCA platform has the advantage of allowing applicants to make essay edits even after submission, which is great if you catch a mistake. This platform also lets applicants link to online content in order to share more information, such as online video, portfolio (pictures or photographs), musical composition, or newspaper article.

Coalition Application

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success was developed in 2015 in order to provide greater access to college applications for under-resourced students.  A notable feature of the Coalition application is the Locker, in which students can begin storing documents, photos, and videos in 9th grade, which can later be attached to the Coalition college application. This information could include essays, artwork, and performances, as well as standardized test scores and awards. The Coalition feels that gathering this information early will reduce stress later.

The application has steadily grown in popularity, with over 113 participating colleges at present. 19 additional colleges will accept the application in 2018/2019, including Brown, Bucknell, Cornell, and UVA. As of the 2017-18 application cycle, the only colleges to exclusively require the Coalition Application were the University of Florida, University of Washington, and the University of Maryland.

UCAS (United Kingdom)

For international students, UCAS has traditionally been the UK’s centralized application form for higher education institutions. Notably, UCAS limits students to a maximum of five university programs. You are also limited to one school in all of the Oxford and Cambridge’s colleges, known collectively as Oxbridge. Several international schools have joined the Common App as part of a strategic effort to increase the presence of US students on campuses. These include King’s College London, St Andrews in Scotland, and Queen’s University Canada. More international students are now using the Common Application, which has the much greater limit of 20 total universities.

A critical difference between the UCAS application and the Common Application involves the essays.  UCAS includes only one essay, the Personal Statement, that focuses entirely on academics; the prompt asks students to discuss their chosen academic course(s), why it interests them, and why they are suitable. In contrast, the Common Application Personal Essay can be about any topic of the student’s choice; and colleges typically have supplemental essays that are specific to their universities.

For an in-depth look at how to apply to UK universities, see our blog.

Individual College Application

In addition, several schools continue to have only their own application and do not accept any of the shared applications. The motivation is to weed out students who are not genuinely interested in the college, and to customize the application and essays. A few examples are Clemson University, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin.

A few other colleges accept a shared application as well as their own application.  Tulane has had its own application since it began in 1834, and several years ago began accepting the Common Application.

State System-Shared Application

Some schools like New York’s SUNY system and the California state universities share an online application platform that allows students to apply to one or more public colleges within their network.

Our Recommendations

While each student’s situation is unique, overall we recommend the following:

Use the Common Application wherever possible. Perhaps a decade ago, when the Common App was not as widely accepted, we may have recommended that you use a college’s own application, if available, in order to demonstrate interest. But with 700 member institutions, the Common App is now valued by colleges as strongly as their own application.

Coalition Application. Use this application platform if you feel that it would be helpful for you to start saving documents, artwork, and video content in the Locker, beginning in freshman year.

UCAS. Use this universal UK platform if you are applying to two or more UK universities that do not accept the Common Application.

When you have a choice, choose based on the essays. If you’re applying to a college that accepts multiple application platforms, examine whether the essay options are different, and choose the option that matches your needs.

For example, St Andrews (Scotland) accepts UCAS and the Common Application; if you apply through the Common Application, you can personalize your essays more.  You will have the opportunity to submit your Common App Personal Essay (which can be more creative than the UCAS Personal Statement) as well as a supplemental essay about why you are a good fit for St Andrews. The UCAS application does not allow for any university-specific essays.

Navigating your online applications and knowing how to best represent yourself as a college candidate can be daunting. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help! Feel free to contact us.

Common App 2014-2015: What You Need to Know!

This year’s Common App launched Friday, August 1st.  Luckily, after a rocky implementation last year of a new generation of the Common App, the early experience of the 2014 version is going smoothly!   Rising seniors can now register for an account, complete the Common App form, add their colleges, and begin working on Supplemental essays.  Over 500 colleges accept the Common App, including colleges in the United Kingdom, such as St. Andrews, and other international countries. More students have already submitted applications, the number of technical help questions has decreased significantly, and response time to address inquiries is vastly quicker.

As the summer winds to a close, try to get a jump on completing the Common App before you begin the intensity of your senior year!

Key Features of the Common App 2014-15

College List

You are limited to including 20 colleges on the My Colleges page of the Common App.  Collegiate Gateway recommends that your final list include 10-12 colleges, an ideal amount if you have carefully identified features that are a good fit for you.  Your list should cover the admissibility range, including Reach, Target and Likely colleges.

Personal Essay

The main essay of the Common Application is the 650-word Personal Essay, a chance for you to tell the Admissions Office who you are, beyond your grades and test scores. Focus on features that differentiate you from other applicants.  Try to paint a vivid portrait of significant aspects of your identity!  This essay also serves as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills and creativity.

Here are the five essay prompts:

  • A story that is central to your identity
  • A time when you experienced failure
  • A time when you challenged a belief
  • An environment where you are perfectly content
  • An event that marked your transition to adulthood

You no longer have a “topic of your choice” option, as was available in the Common App through 2012.

Activity Section

The Common App includes an Activity section, in which you can list up to 10 significant extracurricular, volunteer or summer activities, along with a brief description of your position, honors and responsibilities.  Be as specific as possible in your descriptions, while also remaining succinct and to the point.

College Resume

Each college can choose whether to allow a resume to be uploaded as a PDF.  Only a few of the colleges that accept the Common App allow for a resume, including Colgate, Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, Penn and Vassar.

Supplemental Writing

In addition to the Personal Essay, each college can request or recommend that you complete additional essays.  Each college’s choice of essays may appear in either their Questions or Writing section –be sure to check out both these sections before you begin to write your essays, so you have a good idea of all the essays a particular college requires.

Here are some of the most common supplemental essays:

  • The “Match” essay. You may see this essay prompt phrased in a variety of ways: Why are you applying to a particular college within the university? What do you like about the university? What communities at the university you wish to join? What will you contribute to the university?  Regardless of the specific wording, the goal of this type of essay is to determine how much you know about the college, and how strong a fit you are. The essay may ask about general features of the university, or may focus on the academics. Do your research!  A few colleges that require a match essay include Barnard, Boston University, Brown and Bucknell.
  •  Activity essay. You may choose an extracurricular activity, sport, volunteer work, internship or employment, or even a hobby. Select an activity that is meaningful to you, and preferably a unique activity that helps differentiate you.  A few colleges that require an activity essay include Columbia, Georgetown, Penn State, Princeton, Rice and Stanford.
  • Creative essays.  More and more colleges have very creative essay prompts to encourage students to reveal personal qualities that are not apparent from the rest of the application.  For the first time, Dartmouth is including a choice of essays, such as “Every name tells a story: Tell us about your name and its origin.”  Stanford continues to ask “Write a note to your future roommate.”  Williams describes its “Oxford-style tutorial process,” and asks students, “Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why?”

Colleges’ essays are a reflection of the school’s values and identity.  Use the essays to express your own values and identity!  And if you need any help, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

 

 

 

 

The New Common App CA4

The Common App has undergone significant changes in content and design, effective with the Class of 2014.  Scott Anderson, Director of Outreach of the Common Application, provided a fascinating webinar of the new Common Application, called version CA4.  There are now over 520 colleges that accept the Common App!

New Design and Content

The main content change is that the new Personal Essay has five new prompts, and the “Essay of your choice” option is no longer available.  The Short-Answer Activity Essay is no longer on the Common Application, but is an option that colleges may select for their Supplements.

The design changes include more sophisticated dynamic software as well as a cleaner, more navigable visual presentation. The changes are intended to make the application easier and more intuitive to use; and to help students keep track of the status of their application, i.e. what is completed and not completed. The new approach seeks an effective balance between having a “Common” application, and also providing the opportunity for colleges to customize the application.

The questions on the Common App are now smart and dynamic!  Depending on a student’s response to a particular question, appropriate questions follow.  Colleges will use data from the applications to drive the prompts, even on the Writing Supplement. For example, if a student indicates an academic interest in an Engineering major, the student may be prompted to write an essay about Engineering on the College’s Supplement.

There is a new feature called Dashboard, which shows the status of each College application, and students can easily see a PDF of the application. Also, there is a greatly expanded help center — both on the application screens and through a web link.  Help Center is on the Home Page, and is now the home of all support services.

Alternate versions are still possible, but much easier to create! When a student submits the first application, that version is “locked.” With CA4, the student can now return to the app and edit information for future submissions.  If information is changed, the previous information is “hidden,” but not “erased.” Students will have the opportunity to submit three essay edits, so that they can make corrections (but not submit an entirely different essay).

Common Application Form

The Common Application includes questions asked by all college members. Screens will now only show one topic at a time, with appropriate Help Center questions on the right. Sections include:

  • Profile. Basic biographical information.
  • Family. Dynamic questions. E.g., if parents are divorced, additional questions appear re step-parents.
  • Education. As student begins to type name of high school, choices appear. Once student selects high school, accurate CEEB and address info populates the fields.
  • Testing. Students choose whether to report standardized tests; if so, which to report. Drop-down menu lists all options.
  • Activities. Largely unchanged section, still includes up to 10 activities. Activity type is a drop-down list, same as previously. A new feature is that if a student selects Athletics, can now enter the particular sport. Will still have up and down arrows to change the sequence of the activities. Highest position held has a maximum of 50 characters. Details and accomplishments has been expanded to 150 characters.
  • Writing: The Personal Essay now has 5 new prompts, not 6; is a copy-and-paste document, not uploadable, and has a word count of 250-650 words, which will be strictly enforced.

My Colleges Section (former Supplements)

The section has been redesigned to be more intuitive re adding colleges.

  • Each College will now select questions from a databank of common questions, and these questions will appear consistently from college to college, e.g. Contacts, Family, How did you first learn about us, who else in your family has attended the college?
  • Writing Supplement – Each College will decide which short answer and essay questions to ask; whether to invite a Resume; and whether to include an Additional Information section.
  • Additional Information – maximum of 650 words

For further information, contact www.collegiategateway.com.