Colleges use many different tools for evaluating an applicant’s writing skills.
And considering the number of remedial writing and communications classes offered at even the most prestigious institutions, the need for making an accurate assessment of college-readiness in this key area is becoming increasingly important.
To assess writing ability, colleges may carefully review grades in writing-intensive English, history, and social science classes. Or they may 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 part of additional requirements for test-optional/test-flexible admissions.
At last count, over 50 Common Application member colleges, including Agnes Scott, Amherst, Brandeis, and Sarah Lawrence have made provision for uploading or otherwise receiving graded papers. In fact, the Coalition Application has built-in capacity for both storing and adding these kinds of documents to applications.
And it’s not such a bad idea.
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 their 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.
“There were times when I would be reading the essay being awed by the poor level of writing, while the teacher still gave an A to the student,” said former dean of admissions and financial aid Tom Parker, in an interview with the Amherst Student. “[A graded paper] was a great opportunity to have a deeper look into the varying levels of writing education in high schools.”
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discover if a college is inviting a graded paper or how it should be submitted. And there are usually no guidelines as to what should accompany the paper, if anything. But it might be helpful to include a cover sheet with basic identifying information such as the student’s name and birthdate; the name of the course for which the paper was written noting honors, AP or IB; the specific assignment or essay prompt; and possibly the final grade for the class.
Once the decision has been made about what to send, students sometimes need to figure out how to send it, as colleges vary enormously on how they prefer to receive graded papers—upload, U.S. mail, fax, or email.
Although the Common App offers easy-to-use tools for uploading graded papers, a number of colleges have mysteriously chosen to make the process more complicated. For these members, the Common App may only provide an easily missed link on the “My Colleges” page under “First-Year Test Policy.” If you follow the link, you may be given instructions for submitting the paper. Or not.
To make things even more challenging, a note might appear under the “Instructions & Help Center” column to the right of the college-specific preferred testing question usually 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 or wait until the college sends you an email outlining the process.
This might be where the Coalition Application’s Student Locker comes in handy. As part of its package of application tools, the Coalition Application makes the Locker available as an easy-to-use repository for graded papers and other documents related to a student’s high school career. Using the Coalition platform, a student can very easily attach papers to applications requesting them.
So how does an applicant find out if a college requires or invites the submission of a graded paper or will accept a paper in lieu of test scores?
This is where it’s to a student’s benefit to research and compare different application formats accepted by individual colleges. The best place to start is the school website, where allowable applications will be listed. And don’t be surprised to find multiple applications used by a single college, including the Common App, the Universal College Application (UCA), the Coalition Application, the Cappex Application, a school-based online application and/or a paper version of the same.
Although it may take a little time, it’s often worth the effort to investigate the requirements of each application because they may differ significantly. And you should pick the application that is easiest to use and best represents your credentials.
For example, many Common Application member colleges list on their websites other application forms, which allow students to substitute graded papers for essays—even when the Common Application doesn’t. This year, the University of Chicago allowed a graded paper to be substituted for an essay only for those students using the Coalition Application.
To give you an idea of how complicated these questions can be, here are some Common App member colleges that provide for paper (graded or otherwise) submissions:
- Agnes Scott (Member Question upload—Preferred testing plan)
- Albright College (homeschooled students/optional for others)
- Amherst College (Writing Supplement)
- Augustana, IL (Link on My Colleges)
- Austin College (Member Question—Preferred testing plan)
- Baldwin-Wallace (Member Question upload—Preferred testing plan)
- Bennington College (Dimensional Application)
- Bloomfield College (Writing Supplement)
- Brandeis (Writing Supplement—test flexible)
- Butler University (option for international applicants)
- Caldwell University (Website)
- Catholic University (homeschooled students)
- Cedar Crest College (online application)
- Chatham University (Writing Supplement)
- College of Saint Rose (Website)
- Daemen College (Website)
- Elizabethtown College (Website)
- Emerson College (option for students deferred from early action)
- Fairfield University (Member Question upload)
- Franklin and Marshall (link on My Colleges)
- Franklin Pierce University (Website)
- Gettysburg College (homeschooled applicants)
- Green Mountain College (Writing Supplement)
- Guilford College (Test optional instructions provided in tool bar)
- Hiram College (Website)
- Hood College (option for international applicants)
- Hampshire College (Writing Supplement)
- Kings College (Website)
- Lake Erie College (Website)
- Lewis and Clark (Member Question upload—Preferred testing plan)
- Lynchburg College (Website)
- Marietta College (Website)
- Marlboro College (Writing Supplement—writing sample)
- Muhlenberg (Instructions provided under Preferred testing plan)
- Niagara University (Website)
- Oberlin College (Writing Supplement: homeschooled applicants)
- Providence College (homeschooled applicants)
- Roanoke College (Member Questions—test optional consideration)
- Saint Leo University (Instructions provided in tool bar and on website)
- Sarah Lawrence (Member Question upload)
- Siena College (Website)
- SUNY Plattsburgh (Website)
- Stetson (Writing Supplement)
- St. John Fisher College (Website)
- St. Olaf College (Coalition Application)
- Union College (Coalition Application)
- University of Chicago (Coalition Application)
- University of Evansville (Website)
- University of Scranton (Website)
- University of the Sciences (Website)
- Ursinus College (international applicants)
- Washington College (Website)
- Wheaton College MA (Website)
- William Jewell College (Website)
- Yale University (Coalition Application)
Other colleges offering the graded paper option include Catawba College, Hellenic College, Point Park University, the University of Baltimore, and the University of Oregon (alternate admission process).
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.