How To Approach the Common & Coalition App Coronavirus / COVID-19 Essay

This year, both applications have added an optional 250-word essay to address the impact COVID-19 has had on you. The prompt for the Common App is as follows (and you can find the Coalition prompt here): 

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

If you check “yes,” you will see: Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Of course, everyone has been affected by the pandemic: many students were not able to complete an internship, attend a summer program, or retake the ACT—and of course, almost all students ended up having to attend classes virtually for the spring semester. Colleges know the pandemic has limited options for every student in many ways! If these normal limitations represent the extent of your experience with COVID-19, we encourage you to skip this essay. AdComs will be reading so many of these essays that an unexceptional one will do little to bolster your application.

If you feel you’ve had an exceptional experience, however, read on for examples of some circumstances that might be acceptable to talk about in this essay. Although this list is not exhaustive, it should give you a sense of what AdComs might expect to read in this new space. 

Circumstances that might warrant an essay: 

  • Illness: You were very sick; a close family member was very sick; or, in the worst-case scenario, someone close to you passed away. 
  • Relocation: You were forced to live elsewhere during this time because you lived in an area with a very high infection rate, because a family member fell sick, or to support a family member with a compromised immune system. 
  • Family Circumstances: A family member lost their job or was furloughed and this affected your family’s situation in a profound way (where you lived, access to basic needs, etc.). 
  • Education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces: Any of the above happened, which resulted in a profound impact on your ability to learn during this time; for instance, you were not able to attend school during this time because you needed to work to support your family or you had no, or very limited, access to a computer with reliable internet. 
  • Future plans: If the pandemic prompted you to rethink your plans for college (you now, for example, want to focus your studies on healthcare policy or ed-tech), it would be acceptable to talk about that impact in this essay. 
  • Exceptional Acts of Service: If the pandemic inspired you to perform an extraordinary act (or acts) of service, ones that had a real impact in either your local community or further away (via online tutoring, for example), admissions officers would want to hear about that, too. 

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Tips for 11/15, 11/30 and 12/1 Deadlines

It is time to press submit (if you haven’t already!)! A few things to keep in mind as you finalize applications:

    • Send official standardized test scores ASAP if the schools on your list require officials. Double-check score reporting policies. Some schools require that you send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice.
    • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit. After any final changes, print all of your applications and review them the old-fashioned way (using a pen, on paper). When you press the review/submit button (on the Common App), a PDF is generated, which is very easy to print. You can also generate a PDF in the Coalition App. Printing each app is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them back to front.
    • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters now. Don’t forget to say thank you!
    • If you added “Other” recommenders to your applications—for example, a coach, work supervisor, or research mentor—shoot them a friendly reminder, too.
    • Track your application status after you submit. Once your applications have been submitted, track your app’s status online to ensure schools received all of your materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
    • If you applied test-optional, check your portal for additional requirements as some colleges are requiring an essay on why you are not submitting scores — for example — Clemson and Michigan. 

And though not exactly related to submitting your apps, don’t forget to:

  • Study for any remaining standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects).
  • Interview where possible. Check to see if the schools on your list (even those you are applying to in the regular decision round) have priority interview deadlines.
  • Write interest letters or follow-up emails to top choice schools.

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Last Minute Tips for 11/1 College Deadlines

Last Minute Tips for 11/1 College Deadlines

It is time to press submit (if you haven’t already!)! A few things to keep in mind as you finalize applications:

  • Send official standardized test scores ASAP if the schools on your list require officials. Double-check score reporting policies. Some schools require that you send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice.
  • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit. After any final changes, print all of your applications and review them the old-fashioned way (using a pen, on paper). When you press the review/submit button (on the Common App), a PDF is generated, which is very easy to print. You can also generate a PDF in the Coalition App. Printing each app is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them back to front.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters now. Don’t forget to say thank you!
  • If you added “Other” recommenders to your applications—for example, a coach, work supervisor, or research mentor—shoot them a friendly reminder, too.
  • Track your application status after you submit. Once your applications have been submitted, track your app’s status online to ensure schools received all of your materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • If you applied test-optional, check your portal for additional requirements as some colleges are requiring an essay on why you are not submitting scores — for example — Clemson and Michigan. 

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Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Given campus visit restrictions, students are finding it more challenging than ever before to get a sense of what a college is really like. Prospective applicants want (and need!) information they can’t always get online, and that they would often get by sitting in on classes, going on overnight visits, or even meeting with current students on campus through sports teams, affinity groups, or clubs they hope to join if admitted.

Whether students get to campus or not, we know from experience that they can craft smaller, more targeted college lists that reflect a deep knowledge of schools beyond rankings when they talk to current students and young alumni. Talking to peers is also the single best way to learn more about the social aspects of college and what it is like (realistically!) to follow a certain major path.

With that, we’ve launched a new Peer Guide program!

We have a small pool of college students who are available to meet with high school students and help guide them on all things their school, major, and college life in general. Here’s how it works:

Reach out letting us know the specific school or major you want peer guidance on, and we will let you know if guides are available and share their bio(s). *Please note, as we are piloting this program, we might not have a guide available for your college or major of interest; if one becomes available later, we will let you know

-You choose a guide(s) and let us know how much time you want with them (one hour is typically sufficient). Time with the guide is purchased in one-hour blocks, and we ask that you use the time with your guide within three months

-We intro the student and guide, and they take it from there! This is not a formal mentorship program, and students and guides will schedule their time together directly. *Please note, this is a near-peer, student-to-student program. Guides do not meet with or communicate with parents

We have guides from many popular schools including:

  • Michigan
  • Dartmouth
  • Duke
  • Tulane
  • Stanford
  • Princeton
  • Harvard
  • GWU
  • Georgetown
  • Cornell
  • Notre Dame
  • Northeastern
  • and more!

Email us if you are interested in learning more!

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Cornell Adds “Score Free” Policy (AKA Test Blind) for Some Colleges

Cornell Adds “Score Free” Policy (AKA Test Blind) for Some Colleges

Fall 2021 First-Year Applicants: If you are considering or planning to take the SAT or ACT for the first time or to repeat testing again this year (2020), please do not feel you need to do this unless you are able to take the exam locally near your home and you feel safe in doing so. As a reminder, we will evaluate your application without standardized testing. For your health and safety, please always adhere to your local and state COVID-19 guidelines.

The SARS-COV-2 pandemic emergency has led to many SAT and ACT administration cancellations. Due to this extraordinary circumstance, students seeking to enroll at Cornell University beginning in August 2021 can submit their applications without including the results from ACT or SAT exams. This will be true for both the Early Decision and Regular Decision rounds of review.

For those who have taken, or who can take, ACT and SAT exams

Cornell overall has not planned to adopt a test-optional admission policy permanently. As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work.

In Cornell’s review during the 2020-2021 application cycle, results from the ACT or SAT might still be a meaningful differentiator in particular for students who:

  • live near or attend a school that will be open, and where testing will be offered, or who live near a testing center that will be offering more testing seats or dates than they did in 2019; and
  • have not experienced lost income for one or more of their household providers or other significant new hardships and losses during 2020.

We can’t pre-define in absolute, comprehensive terms what economic or personal disruptions will look like. We don’t plan to require any students to justify their reasons for not submitting test results.

Students who have taken a test, or even more than one test, but would still prefer not to submit those results, can make that choice.

For those who can’t plan for, take, and submit exams

Cornell readers will consider with increased scrutiny their other application documents, looking for different evidence of excellent academic preparation, including:

  • challenging courses and excellent grades in each secondary school (high school) context. Note: there will be no negative interpretation for schools and students who have had only pass/fail or similar grading options during this current term;
  • evidence of commitment and effort to pursuing other challenging learning experiences; 
  • results from other kinds of secondary, college-preparatory, and university-qualifying testing where available and verifiable; 
  • care, craft, and authenticity in their writing submissions; 
  • and wherever practical and available, details, insight, and analysis from secondary school counselors and teachers. 

Applicants with no test results might more often be asked after review has begun for additional evidence of continuing preparation, including grade reports from current senior year enrollment when that can be made available in time for Cornell admission review. 

(Score-Free) Cornell colleges that will be score-free and will not use test scores in the admission process:

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business – Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business – School of Hotel Administration

(SAT/ACT testing optional) Cornell colleges and schools that will also include a review of test results they receive:

  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Human Ecology
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Future Cornell testing requirements

This emergency suspension for applicants during 2020 does not include guidance for applicants who will be graduating from high school after summer of 2021. We will evaluate our experience during the upcoming reading months and review our policies and options with an intent to announce new guidance in February 2021. For now, this is a one-year relief intended for students now entering their senior year in high school, who had been assembling a distinguished record of achievement until the COVID-19 disruption started in their country, region, or school, and who continue to seek the higher education opportunities toward which their efforts had been directed.

 

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Free Online Event: Academic, Testing, and College Prep Strategies for an Unconventional School Year

Free Online Event: Academic, Testing, and College Prep Strategies for an Unconventional School Year

Reminder to join us for an interactive discussion focused on strategies to support students in grades 9-12. Some topics we will cover include:

-What college prep looks like in grades 9-10
-Test prep timing
-Extracurricular planning when most EC’s have moved online
-Researching colleges when you can’t get to campus
-When to apply under test-optional policies
-The COVID 19 essay

Date: August 25, 2020
Time: 8pm Eastern
Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86253772749

Please RSVP at your earliest convenience, and submit your questions for a live Q&A via the RSVP form.

See you on August 25th!

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From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

Brendan Barnard wrote a three-part series where he asked admission leaders to focus on what they wanted students and families to know about applying to college next year. The common theme in their responses was, “WE GET IT!” They know that there has been major disruption and that everyone is learning virtually. They know that sports competitions, musical productions, and internships have been canceled. They are aware that many students will not take standardized tests and that grading policies in high schools are in flux. 

A few important insights/quotes for students and parents to take note of:

On transcripts/grading…

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College agrees, saying, “there will be a big asterisk on spring 2020 transcripts for all students and colleges and universities are aware and understanding of that fact.” He adds, “we will work with college counselors to understand and accept the choices individual schools and districts make during these challenging times.

On activities/summer…

Often, students and parents mistakenly believe that they need to build a long list of activities and involvement in the name of admission to college. “More, more, more” is their mantra as they try to do—and be—everything to stand out in the application process. In some communities, daily schedules for high school students become unsustainable, as families rush from one commitment to another—usually leading to sleep-deprived, burnt-out young people (and parents). In other communities, students are working long hours at a job or caring for a younger sibling, and therefore worry that their college application will lack what they perceive as “traditional” extracurricular involvement. This resume building approach to admission is flawed and the current crisis has forced us all to slow down and look critically at what we do. Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost and director of admissions at Virginia Tech, says, “We recognize that organized extracurricular activities will be impossible, but we are impressed, by how students are finding ways to give back to their communities.”

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College tells students, “many of you may have a little more time on your hands these days. Rest. Read. Reassess. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I pursue this activity or that program?’” He adds, “many students believe we count activities and that more is better. What we seek is commitment to a few activities, though there is no formula for a successful application.” He advises, “pursue what you want, and find the college that matches, and you will be much more satisfied in the end. You may also have less choice as you care for siblings and families, and there may not be the ability to work. We value all commitments.” Bock encourages students to “think about what has motivated you to do what you do? Would you do it all the same? Why are you doing it? When things return to the new normal (whenever that happens) how do you envision engaging with and impacting your family, your faith community, your school, or your larger community?” He says, “regardless, take care of yourself first and take it slow. There is time for reflection.” 

Some students had grand plans for the summer. Maybe they had been looking forward to being a camp counselor or participating in an internship. Perhaps they were eager to volunteer or work a steady job. Research, travel, spending time with a relative—many summer experiences have been, or likely will be, closed down by the pandemic. Applicants fear that dashed plans will ruin their college dreams. Heath Einstein, dean of admission at Texas Christian University suggests looking at it in a different way. He says, “summer presents an opportunity to be productive even if in different ways. For example, a student might not be able to secure a coveted internship, but they could still plant a garden in their yard or design a smartphone app or read books by authors from marginalized communities.” 

Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina explains that “thirst for learning and knowledge is always valuable and appreciated by the admissions committee.” She tells students that given that they are operating in a non-traditional classroom this spring, “consider other opportunities to pursue learning beyond the classroom over the summer,” adding, “you’re probably already doing something that could be considered an internship or research project of sorts. Perhaps you’ve taken on new responsibilities in your home or family. Is there a new skill that you are trying to learn online? Are you working toward a finished project or artifact that can show off what you’ve learned? These can be applied, creative, or reflective in nature. We find that students are pretty imaginative on this front and are self-taught in many areas.” 

Swarthmore’s Bock also points out that, “self-care is critical, and if you are unable to care for yourself, it will be difficult to care for others.” He encourages students to give themselves permission to prioritize their own health in the same way one might put their own oxygen mask on first during an emergency in flight. He says, “finding a way to give back to your team, club, faith community, family will come with time. Taking care of yourself in this crisis is a way to help others. It will take time, but there will be ways for you to share and care for others beyond your computer screen and devices.” 

On essays…

Temple’s Abbott, says, “I would advise to resist against writing about something that has consumed all of us around the world. Know in advance that colleges will fully recognize the impact of what COVID-19 had on your high school experience. Don’t let this one public health crisis (as dramatic as it was!) define you.” 

Source (three linked here). 

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