Far too many students don’t have anything worthwhile to say in their conclusions to application essays about why they want to attend a particular college or university. If you are completely out of ideas, it’s always a good idea to express appreciation at the end of your college-specific essays.
This is typically the week many high school seniors are a little tense about their college plans. The last few colleges are sending out decisions this week, and they tend to be the colleges where the admit rates are a little less than getting struck by lightning, so the hopes are high, while the odds remain low.
Now that the big week is finally here, here’s a quick list of things you should focus on to make a quality decision for life after high school:
What you do with the college experience matters more than where you go. Most counselors save this advice for the end of articles like this, but these are unusual times. Chances are, if you’ve applied to a highly selective school, you have what it takes to do well there—it’s just that the college runs out of room before they run out of great applicants. This means that the talents, habits, interests, and way you look at the world has prepared you to do great things wherever you go. The college you attend won’t automatically make you a success; that will still be up to you. So your future will still be in your hands, no matter what the colleges have to say this week.
It looks like another record breaking year. There are fewer students graduating from high school this year, but that isn’t keeping many colleges from seeing new highs in applications—and some that are seeing declines are still admitting less than 20 percent of their applicants. Combined with an increase in the number of students many colleges took through early action and early decision plans, that leaves precious few seats to give out this week.
Yes, No, or Maybe, read the entire letter. A student I am close to—OK, it’s my son—was so happy to read he was admitted to his first choice school he didn’t bother to read page 2 of the acceptance letter. I did, and it’s a good thing, since it included information on the merit scholarship that made his attendance their possible. Other yes letters have information about when deposits are due, and those are important as well.
Letters that waitlist you are even more important to read, since staying on the list may require you to do something—email, send back a card, update your application—by a specific date. Even the letters of denial could give you information about transfer options that may now come into play. So read the letter from start to finish, and have a parent do the same.
Read, and update, your financial aid information. There’s a good chance all your colleges are going to be sending financial aid packages this week. These are based on the financial aid information you gave them two months ago, when the world was a quiet place, before the stock market lost 30 percent of its value—and possibly before you or your parents lost their job.
The only way a college will know your financial picture has changed is if you tell them, and this is college—so it’s not time to be shy. Pick up the phone, call financial aid, tell them your new story, and be ready to send supporting documents. You’re this close to making the dream real. Keep working.
File financial aid for the first time. It’s certainly true most colleges have given all their aid away to students who applied for it in February, but many of those students turn down packages, or go to a different school. If you now need help paying for college, get the forms in yesterday—check the college’s website to find out all the forms they need, and where you should send them. Calling to ask is an even better idea.
Ask for an extension to the May 1 deposit. Many colleges understand that this spring isn’t exactly normal, which is why they are moving their deposit deadlines to June 1 or later. If your college isn’t doing that, you can still call and request an extension for personal reasons. They might say no, but the only way they say yes is because you ask—kind of like the only way they admitted you is because you applied. Make. The. Call.
Apply to more colleges. Except for the Top 50, every college in this country is still taking applications for fall admission—and, as mentioned before, some will still have financial aid to offer you. If you’re looking at changing your college plans due to all the changes in the world, lots of colleges are eager to hear from you for the first time…
Consider transferring …and thanks to some pretty strong transfer options, you could still end up graduating from your dream school, even if you can’t start there. The best way to plan a transfer is to call the college where you want to finish, and ask about transfer options. Building the plan from the end means you know where to start, and what classes are best to take to minimize the credits you’ll lose when you make the shift. Ask for transfer admissions when you call.
Talk to your counselor. One upside of all of this is that counselors now have more time than ever to talk college with you, since they don’t have to do lunch duty. I know, I know—they have 8,000 students on their caseload, and they might not know you well. They will once you tell them who you are, and what you need—and that window is now more wide open than ever before. Most schools have sent students direction on how to reach out to counselors. As is the case with most things in life, what you do with that information is now up to you.
How do you tackle the main essay on the Common Application to give yourself the best shot of writing an essay that is acceptance worthy at even the most selective colleges and universities?
While your essay should be unique, your approach to writing a great essay should actually be both formulaic and geared towards differentiating your story and perspective on life from those of other applicants.
Students (and their parents) who are serious about figuring out which Common App essay prompt to pursue should take the time to watch the entire video below. In it, I walk you through each prompt that will appear on the “common” portion of the 2020-2021 Common App and give each a grade for the average and not so average Common App applicant. Enjoy!
Hey Class of 2020!
In a scene from Steve Martin’s 1979 movie, The Jerk, his nebbish-y character Navin R. Johnson runs pell mell down the street upon seeing his name in print for the first time (in the phonebook), declaring to anyone within earshot:
“The New Phonebook is Here! THE NEW PHONEBOOK IS HERE!!!!”
Yeah, I’m a bit of a nebbish myself when it comes to this sort of stuff…every August 1 a brand spanking new Common Application comes out, and that means that you can – and should – access, register for free, and – wonder of wonders – begin filling out what will become (for many if not most of your colleges) your bona fide, actual college application!!!
So join in my excitement and go to www.commonapp.org and click on the “Apply Now” link, register, follow directions and get your college applications started!!
Note that you need to include at least one number, letters (one capital, one lower case) and a symbol ([email protected]#$%^&*) in your ten to sixteen character password. Make sure you write down your password (and don’t be too cute – you don’t want to lose it!).
After you’re registered go to the “College Search” link and type in the name – or partial name – of a college from your top 10 list and hit “search”. You don’t need to fill in every blank – takes too long – just a partial name and you’ll be able to locate your school).
Click the box next to your college and then click “Add.”
Do this for every school on your list (don’t be exclusive at this stage – you can add and remove schools freely over the next five months) and then go to your ‘Dashboard’ and voila, there’s your college list!
Now begin filling out the common application. The sections are: “Profile” “Family” “Education” “Testing” “Activities” “Writing”
So there you have your next assignment campers: register and then fill out the “Profile,” “Family,” “Education,” “Testing,” and “Activities” sections of the Common Application! This is exciting!!! You’re really doing it!!!!!!
This is also a great time to be writing your first and your second (extra…additional…icing on the cake…one for the Gipper) essays. You also should have (or be constructing) an academic/activity resume, which you’ll find multiple uses for, which I’ll be sure to tell you about if you ask me.
If any of the above has you confused, if you’re still struggling to get going on your essays, resume, list of colleges, or if you just want to qvell with me about my Yankee’s amazing season (forget the killer B’s, we’ve got Mike Tauchman and DL LaMahieu!!!!), give me a call or email and we’ll chat. This time of year I’m about helping students organize their ‘to do’ list for the remainder of the summer and the fall.
And remember to relax, it’s still summer vacation (for some of you) fer cryin’ out loud! Enjoy yourself!
From your erudite escort, your humorous homeboy, your perceptive preceptor, your confident confidante…
Gary, the College Guy
P.S. As always, feel free to forward this rant to other rising seniors and their parents, or send me names/email addresses of folks whom you think would benefit from reading my rants. Or you can send them to my web page, which has all my rants for anyone to see. IMHO there’s not enough good, coherent information out there, and you’ve just waded through about the best there is!
Off to the races! The 2020 application for the University of Alabama went live on July 1. Those students with questions about the process of applying to the increasingly-popular-with-out-of-state-students public university in Tuscaloosa, Alabama are encouraged to contact their UA Regional Recruiter.
Yet, it’s not just aggressive Alabama that is attempting to fling open the doors of its Fall 2020 first-year application in the dead of Summer 2019; the Coalition Application, too, likes to be strong out of the gate each summer by going live on July 1, one whole month before its larger competitor, the Common Application, which is available to rising seniors on August 1.
Yours truly, upon hearing about design and functionality upgrades to the 2019-2020 Coalition App, tried to create an account to review the application this morning, but never received the verification email to complete the process of creating an application. I then asked for the verification email to be resent. Still nothing. I looked in my inbox, I looked in my spam folder, I looked under by bed – but it was nowhere to be found. So, an official review of the 2019-2020 Coalition App will have to wait until a later date.
(Update: about an hour after publishing this article, the writer received two verification emails from the Coalition Application, which permitted access to the application; a review of the 2019-2020 Coalition Application will be forthcoming in this space in the near future)
Other colleges either never take their applications down or have also made available their 2020 application before Independence Day. Notable names in this category include Georgetown University and Wake Forest University.
Charles Murphy, University of Florida’s Director of Freshman and International Admissions has made news that is sure to boost University of Florida’s first-year application numbers, make UF more selective for first-year applicants, bring smiles to the faces of high school counselors across the country, and keep high school seniors on edge later into this upcoming year’s admissions cycle.
“Starting with the 2019-20 application cycle, the University of Florida will accept both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. As you likely know, we have exclusively taken the Coalition Application the last few years, and look forward to continued partnerships with Coalition for applications and programming aimed at promoting access and student success. We are still finalizing some internal logistics with the Common Application, so you will not yet see this information updated on our admissions website or the Common Application’s website. However, that information will be updated as soon as possible once everything is finalized.” Murphy shared.
Murphy went on to add that starting during the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, UF’s admissions notification date will move back to the last Friday of February, which for the upcoming admissions cycle is February 28, 2020. In recent years, UF has notified applicants of their admissions decisions in early February. According to Murphy, UF already enjoys “consistent year to year increases in application volume,” and with the acceptance of the Common App, UF will certainly need the extra weeks in February to review what will surely be the biggest increase in applications UF has experienced yet based on how other colleges’ first-year application numbers have increased after joining the Common App.
UF’s one first-year application deadline of November 1 will remain the same as in past years. High school counselors have not so much enjoyed having their students apply to UF in recent years, as the university has most recently been a Coalition Application exclusive college, which means it accepted no application other than the Coalition Application. The Coalition Application, while a good idea in theory (it was created to promote equity and access and to serve as a strong and more user-friendly counter balance to the Common App), turns out to be an increasingly wretched application in practice, as its functionality and usability has taken a nose dive with each passing admissions cycle. This is saying a lot because the application was never as user-friendly as behemoth competitor Common App (approaching 1,000 members) or the small but seamless Universal College App (in an inexplicable funk with only ten members). In fact, the Coalition Application is so horrible to use from the perspective of applicants (I had one student fly into an uncontrollable rage this past year when trying to navigate her Coalition Application, while another student I was working with at one point pushed his chair back from the computer where he was working on the Coalition Application and proceeded to just look out into the distance in what seemed like a catatonic state for at least four minutes after becoming completely stupefied by the application’s interface) that I purposely won’t link to it in this article for fear that doing so would encourage students to use it. High school counselors have been increasingly befuddled by how to advise students to navigate the Coalition Application, which seems filled with trap doors, dead ends, and missing links.
Sadly, University of Maryland, College Park and University of Washington will remain Coalition-exclusive colleges for the upcoming admissions cycle. Meanwhile, University of Virginia and Dartmouth College have quietly made clear that they will stop accepting the hot mess that is the Coalition Application for the 2019-2020 application cycle, though both institutions did not use those words – or any words, actually – in making the change.
With so many colleges now accepting the Common App for first-year college entry admissions, UF can expect a lot more unserious apps coming its way, which, trust me, is just fine with UF because it will allow UF to increase its selectivity (UF will get to reject a higher percentage of students than ever before) and perceived prestige (though prestige, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder). It will also allow UF to turn away more Florida residents who often get to attend the institution for little out-of-poket money because of Florida’s generous Bright Futures scholarships, which are funded by players and addicts alike of the Florida Lottery.
High school students who invest time creating résumés may be handsomely rewarded in the college application process. Of 689 Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, at least 224 — or about one-third — have made specific provisions for or even require the submission of this handy document.
This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, there remains a lingering controversy over the appropriateness of asking students to develop and maintain résumés throughout high school. And many colleges are very deliberate about not including them as part of their applications.
In her blog on college admissions at the University of Virginia, Jeanine Lalonde makes a point of repeating every year, “The Common App has a resume upload function and lets each school decide whether they want to use it. We are one of the schools that turned that function off. We prefer the Common App activity section to the various ways people choose to present their activities on resumes.”
But many college advisers and lots of colleges very much disagree.
“Almost as soon as I start guiding a student through college planning, I learn about the student’s interests and hobbies and discuss the importance of extracurricular commitment in and out of school – both for college admission and life enrichment. That naturally leads to an analysis of student engagement and the creation and continual updating of a résumé,” said Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner in Palm Beach and Broward counties, Florida. “The résumé becomes far more than a list of activities. Rather, it highlights a student’s accomplishments about what she has done, why, how, and, most especially, how these actions have impacted lives (hers and others’).”
Robinovitz adds, “Here’s an important secret: when you share a thoughtfully prepared and detailed résumé with anyone who will write a recommendation, you’re likely to get a stronger and more anecdotal piece of writing that supports your application. Plus, through résumé creation now, we lay critical groundwork for undergraduate summer job and internship applications – and ultimately, for graduate school and vocational opportunities.”
In other words, a résumé represents an opportunity to collect, keep track of and reflect on accomplishments. And it’s likely to be a document the student will have to maintain, using different formats and styles, through college and beyond.
Most school-based and independent college counselors agree there’s no reason to include a résumé 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 plenty of colleges outside of the Common App system do, such as Georgetown University, Virginia Tech, MIT and the University of Texas at Austin.
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 and the name of the organization in which you participate. A second box allows 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any distinctions you earned.
The Coalition provides space for extracurricular activities in the Profile section of the application. Students may enter up to eight activities and are asked to specify “the two primary activities that have taken up most of your extracurricular time during high school.” For each activity, the student is allowed 64 characters for the activity name (Cashier, Wegmans Grocery Store, Fairfax VA), as well as 255 characters for “one brief sentence describing the primary function of this activity” and an additional 255 characters to “[L]ist any positions/honors/awards received in this activity, if any.”
Students using the Universal College Application (UCA) may enter up to seven “Extracurriculars, Personal and Volunteer Experience[s]” and up to five employers or job-related activities. 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 member 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 résumé. These include:
- Boston College
- Brandeis University
- Brown University
- Bucknell University
- Claremont McKenna College
- Colgate University *
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College*
- Davidson College**
- George Mason University
- George Washington University
- Howard University
- Johns Hopkins University**
- Kenyon College
- Lafayette College
- Macalester College
- Mount Holyoke College
- Northeastern University
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Santa Clara University
- Trinity College
- Tulane University
- Union College*
- University of Cincinnati
- University of Massachusetts-Amherst
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
- University of Pennsylvania*
- Vanderbilt University*
- Washington University in St. Louis*
Another option is to see if the college offers an alternate application that allows for résumé uploads. For example, the UCA provides for fully-formatted résumés by allowing PDFs to be uploaded in the Additional Information section of the application. Before going forward with this plan, however, it’s wise to check with the college first to see if they’d like a copy of your résumé as part of your application for admission. They may not!
A résumé 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.
If given the opportunity, use it. But make sure it reflects well on you and contains accurate and up-to-date information.
* This school also made provisions for résumé upload on the Coalition Application.
** This school does not specifically provide for résumé upload on the Coalition Application.
For nearly a decade, the Universal College Application (UCA) has offered students the opportunity to include on their applications a “live” link or URL to online content such as YouTube, LinkedIn, personal websites, blogs, etc. In this regard, the UCA was way ahead of the competition, offering an option that both colleges and students seemed to want. Despite repeated calls to include a similar field on their application, the Common App opted to strengthen partnerships with outside vendors like SlideRoom (frequently charging applicants a separate fee) and resisted signs that colleges were increasingly transitioning to inclusion of digital credentials as part of the admissions process.
With the debut of the Coalition platform, the idea of making digital media available as part of the college application became more institutionalized. Videos, audio presentations and pictures can be easily uploaded to the Student Locker and transferred to applications for colleges requesting them. And most Coalition colleges opted to also use the upload function for the personal statement—something the Common App dropped a couple of years ago in favor unwieldy “text boxes,” which definitely limit an applicant’s ability to control format, embed live links and use different characters or pictures as part of their essays.
As the Coalition built on a precedent established by the UCA and opened students to the possibility of introducing colleges to their digital sides, the Common App responded by creating a relationship with ZeeMee, originally an online resume-building site high on visuals and low on written content. In the spring of 2016, the Common App introduced the new partnership with an “infomercial” at their annual conference and offered colleges the opportunity to have a field dedicated to ZeeMee included in their “member questions.” A number of colleges accepted the offer, some by stridently advertising for and recruiting students to the ZeeMee platform. Others were moderate in their requests and still fewer (one or two) suggested that students could include a link to ZeeMee or other online media if they chose.
But the times are changing. Without any promotion or advertisement from the Common App, many member colleges adopted the more “generic” URL field in their 2017-18 applications and are using this opportunity to encourage students to provide links to any site—not just ZeeMee. In fact at least 45, or about six percent of Common App members with live applications at this point, intentionally give students a wider opportunity to provide a link to a website of their choosing.
For the record, an additional 125 Common App members (as of this writing) appear to limit their requests to or provide dedicated fields for ZeeMee URLs—some with very strong marketing language.
But this welcome application development seems to have largely gone unnoticed. Perhaps it would be even more welcome if the link were “live” and a reader could click on the URL and go directly to the site—an opportunity the UCA has offered students and admissions readers for close to ten years! Unfortunately, the current state of Common App technology apparently requires readers to copy and paste the URL into an internet browser to access content. Nevertheless, the inclusion of a more general question in the bank of member questions is an acknowledgment of the value of this information to the admissions process.
Here is a sample of Common App members electing to move away from promoting a single site to opening their application to the inclusion of any URL:
- Antioch College
- Brown University
- Centre College
- Colorado College
- Earlham College
- Eckerd College
- Florida Institute of Technology
- Florida Southern College
- Hampshire College
- Kenyon College
- Lafayette College
- Marist College
- Occidental College
- Pepperdine University
- Pitzer College
- Texas Christian University
- Union College
Franklin and Marshall, Hamilton and the University of Mary Washington make similar requests on the Coalition application.
And while the URL requests are fairly generic and don’t steer applicants in any particular direction, the award for best wording by a Common App member goes to the University of Mary Washington:
“Some applicants maintain an electronic profile (such as ZeeMee) that exhibits talents, creativity or other information to share with the Admissions Committee. If you maintain such a site, and would like the Admissions Committee to view it, please enter the URL here.”
The cleverest college award goes to SUNY Purchase, which gets around the deficiency in Common App technology by instructing applicants to be creative about uploading a document containing a link:
“For video submissions, post your video to YouTube or Vimeo and submit a document here with the URL link to the video.”
Note: For the nearly one-third of Common App members providing for submission of fully-formatted résumés, you can include URLs on those documents, upload them as PDFs and assume the links will be conveyed as live, thereby providing direct access to any online content you wish readers to see. Click here for more information on colleges that welcome your résumé.
Think of the ZeeMee digital video as a live resume for your college application. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, show your personality and share your story, as well as make a more personal connection with your application reader. The student story, says ZeeMee co-founder Adam Metcalf, “has defined us as a company.” A former high school teacher, Metcalf says he is “very passionate about each student being seen as more than a score.”
However, says Metcalf, 80% of the several hundred thousand students who built a ZeeMee page last year “indicated difficulty in creating video and unique content that allowed their story to come to life.” And college partners told ZeeMee they often received a video that was partially or completely blank. To remedy this, ZeeMee made some changes for the 2017-18 application season.
All About the Smartphone (No Web)
The free Zeemee video is now created exclusively using the ZeeMee App on an iOS or Android smartphone. (It can still be viewed — in fact, it is intended to be viewed — on the web.)
“Our students consistently asked for an easier way to share their story through mobile,” says Metcalf. “The idea of posting a video on the web was foreign to Gen Z.” By eliminating the web platform, ZeeMee can focus on how to improve the student story via their smartphone app.
Furthermore, this means access to ZeeMee is now uniform and equitable: all students will use the same platform to create their video. “Students who don’t have access to professionally edited videos can share their story just as easily as someone who does,” says the ZeeMee team. “We needed to create an experience where everyone was on equal footing…. it is less about shooting an award winning film and more about being authentic and true to who you really are.”
Pre-recorded Prompts to Scaffold Videos
“Students also asked for an easier way to know what to share,” says Metcalf. “As a result, we introduced question prompts.” The prompts are asked on the Chat tab of the app — just tap on Questions. Students will occasionally receive push notifications for a new prompt they can consider, such as: Talk about a time you accomplished something you previously thought you couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Or: Who would win, Superman or Batman?
Students can skip over prompts until they are ready to record their answer to a question they prefer. They can change their minds or rerecord their answers as many times as they wish. They can also create their own questions to answer. The idea is for students to answer the one or more prompts they think will best showcase their character and values.
Responses to prompts will be limited to 26 seconds each. This may seem arbitrary, but the ZeeMee team says, “The response time was informed by data we collected as to average viewing time of videos.” The takeaway here is to keep your points succinct. You want your video to be viewed; the enforced time limit will make that more likely to happen.
Captions Can Be More than Captions
Previously, activities were described using up to 350 characters in one section; and photos with short captions were presented in another section. But colleges reported to ZeeMee that many times either the content would be redundant; or students might provide great detail in their activities section and then skip the photo captions, leaving viewers to wonder what was going on.
In response, ZeeMee has merged these two sections by eliminating the activity section while expanding the writing space for photos to as many as 5000 characters. “Thus,” says Metcalf, “the ability to write, to add photos and to create video are all still an integral part of the ZeeMee process.”
How to Deal
Students who have already opened a ZeeMee web account can download the app on their smartphone to access their accounts. ZeeMee has not deleted any video or picture content; to restore access, students just need to link their old account to the app.
When linking accounts, students must select their high school from a drop-down menu. The list is being updated, so there is a chance a student might not find their school. If trying an alternate spelling does not help, ZeeMee director Ethan Lin offers this workaround: select an available high school to proceed through linking the accounts; once that’s completed, immediately open the student profile to switch back to the correct school. “I recognize that’s not a perfect solution,” says Lin, “but it should work in the meantime and will help students get into their account.”
Another possible hangup: while students who had already completed the now deleted activities sections can still get access to their text, they will need to contact ZeeMee in order to do so. The ZeeMee team is online for live chats via the App’s My Story tab — click on settings (the gear icon) in the top left corner, then click on Contact Us. Also on the settings tab — an FAQ with answers, explanations and instructions. (This same information is accessible at ZeeMee.com, as well, via the Support tab.) For further assistance, ZeeMee’s Discover tab features prerecorded instructions about the transition; and information about upcoming capabilities, such as how to delete video.
So far, the ZeeMee team is pleased with student response to their new platform. “For this period of time in August, compared with last year, we have had many more students create video through the new experience, which we believe speaks to the ease of the content creation.”
“Students want their story heard,” says Metcalf. “We strongly believe that… the new experience is absolutely the right step for students being able to share their stories.
August 1 marks the official start to the 2017-2018 undergraduate admissions cycle, and this year Admissions Intel is celebrating by giving you the chance to join Admissions Intel on Patreon. Learn a bit about the big trends to look out for this admissions season and the three distinct membership levels that will give you even greater access to the expertise you’ve grown accustomed to on the free side of AdmissionsIntel.com.