Prompt Attention: Common App Questions for 2019

CommonApp.org: “The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process … Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.”

“During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: ‘Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.’ (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: ‘Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.’ (23.7%), followed by ‘The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?’ (21.1%).”

The questions are:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

How Many APs Is AP-propriate?

US News: “Advanced Placement classes can set applicants apart in a competitive college admissions environment, demonstrating the ability to perform well on more challenging coursework. Experts say performing well in AP courses often signals readiness for college. But for students looking to land at a top college, the question of how many AP courses to take persists … for those academically unprepared for the challenge, struggling in AP courses can backfire, with low grades and exam scores reflecting negatively on college applications.”

“A 2013 study conducted by admissions officials at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill found almost no difference in the first year GPA for students who took five college-level classes during high school compared with those who took six or more. Based on these findings, UNC officials remarked in the study they will encourage students ‘to pursue at least five college-level courses’ during high school.”

“Jack Whelan, director of college guidance at Providence Day School in North Carolina, says he generally sees students taking too many AP classes in high school rather than too few … While experts say AP courses are viewed favorably by admissions officers, Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire, notes colleges will consider a student’s application in the context of the curriculum offered at his or her high school, meaning the applicant won’t be penalized if few or no AP classes are available.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Tell The Truth: They Know When You are Lying

The New York Times: “The Common Application asks students to certify that they are telling the truth, but does not try to independently confirm that they are. It is up to colleges to take that extra step … Some universities require students to sign a sworn statement that they are telling the truth, under pain of prosecution. But officials admit they are not seeking to be law enforcement. Mainly, officials and counselors said, they look for inconsistencies. Do standardized test scores and grades match? Do certain words and phrases in an essay jump out as being in the vocabulary of an adult rather than a teenager? Are a student’s extracurricular activities too good to be true?”

“And they depend on high school counselors to give them honest appraisals of students who are applying. ‘If each component is not all pulling in the same direction, it becomes a kind of red flag,’ said Katharine Harrington, vice president of admissions and planning at the University of Southern California.”

“Scott Burke, the undergraduate admissions director at Georgia State University, knew something was amiss when the birth date on an application was far too old to belong to the high school student who supposedly filled it out. With a little sleuthing, his office discovered that it was a parent’s birth date … ‘All of us sitting here looking at those applications came to that thinking that the parent likely filled out the whole application,’ Mr. Burke said. But they could not say for sure whether that was the case, and after contacting the student, they gave the family the benefit of the doubt.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

What to Do When You Are Deferred?

Yale: “Students who apply early will receive one of three decisions in mid-December: Accept, Defer, or Deny … Here’s the deal. A deferral means one thing and one thing only: We need more time to consider your application. It’s important to understand this. You were not deferred because there is something wrong with your application. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: if you were deferred it means your application is strong enough to continue to be seriously considered by the admissions committee.”

“You should not inundate your admissions officer with weekly emails and cards. More often than not it is the required pieces of the applications, like the essays and teacher recommendations that we already have, that make a student stand out for us. For the most part, we have what we need. We’ll get your mid-year grades from your school counselor to see how you’re doing in your senior year classes, and if you want you can send us one letter of update to let us know what you’ve been up to since November 1st.”

“The bottom line is that ‘deferral’ does not mean ‘we need more information’ or ‘something wasn’t good enough.’ It means we see a lot of great potential in you and we just need a little more time to sit in that committee room and mull things over … We appreciate your patience, and you’ll be hearing from us again soon.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Aw, Snap: Admissions Interest in Social Media Drops

Adweek: “The emergence of social platforms and features where content disappears or is not easily available for viewing by people who are not friends or contacts, such as the Stories format on Snapchat and Instagram, has reduced college admissions officers’ focus on applicants’ social media profiles, according to the latest survey from Kaplan Test Prep.”

“Kaplan surveyed 364 admissions officers from national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S., and it found that only 25 percent visit applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them, down from 40 percent in 2015, prior to the emergence of the Stories format and similar features on other social platforms. Indeed, 52 percent of college admissions officers that did visit applicants’ social media profiles said those applicants have become more savvy about hiding their social media presence or using platforms where their content is not easily found by the public.”

“In Kaplan’s 2017 survey, 68 percent of admissions officers felt that it was ‘fair game’ for them to visit applicants’ social media profiles, but that number dropped to 57 percent this year. Meanwhile, 70 percent of students in a separate study conducted by Kaplan earlier this year felt that the practice was fair game.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Hello, Iowa: The Original Cornell

Cornell Daily Sun: “When Martin Rosenfeld was still a high school senior, his college application list included an Ivy League school in Ithaca. A few months later, he got into Cornell and decided to go there. But when he left for school in August of his freshman year, he headed for Iowa, not New York. Rosenfeld intended to apply to Cornell University, as he did to schools like Vanderbilt and Brown. However, during the highly stressful process, he accidentally applied to Cornell College, which is in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He ended up going there and he has no regrets about it.”

“Cornell College is a small, liberal arts school in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The school has an enrollment of about 1,000 undergrads. Although not as well-known as Cornell University, they proclaim themselves the original Cornell since they were founded 12 years before the University … What greatly intrigued Rosenfeld about Cornell College, however, was its curriculum design — ‘the block plan.’ At Cornell College, students take one course at a time and intensively study it for 18 class days – about three and a half weeks – and repeat it four times per semester.”

“Foregoing his acceptance to Vanderbilt, Rosenfeld instead headed to Mount Vernon, a decision that has caused confusion amongst those around him. Martin says that he faced multiple ‘outbursts’ from his peers in high school about why he decided to go to “some small, liberal arts college that practically nobody has ever heard of. His family, despite being supportive, also had a hard time wrapping their heads around this move. But according to Rosenfeld, attending Cornell College was the best decision he ever made.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Fun Facts for Harvard Hopefuls

The Wall Street Journal: “Harvard’s admissions office pays special attention to recruits from 20 U.S. states labeled internally as ‘sparse country’ because students from those places, including Maine, Arizona and Montana, are relatively underrepresented on campus … Applicants from two dockets—the greater New York City and Boston areas—had admit rates of 11.3% and 12.8%, respectively, for the class of 2018. That’s roughly double the rates for other dockets … For the class of 2018, 7.4% of applicants who said they planned to study humanities were admitted, compared with 4.6% of aspiring engineers and computer scientists.”

“Harvard instructs admissions officers to give top marks to recommendation letters if they are ‘truly over the top,’ with phrases like ‘the best ever’ or ‘one of the best in X years’ … At trial, Harvard highlighted moving applicant essays, including one from a Vietnamese immigrant who was bullied in school for his accent … Harvard’s interviewer handbook said applicants who were “bland” should get low marks on the personal rating, which measures their personal qualities through their essays, recommendations and interviews … Roughly 86% of recruited varsity athletes who apply to Harvard were admitted, according to trial testimony.”

“Children of major donors often get flagged by the development and admissions offices … Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants also get special consideration … And the admit rate among students with at least one parent who graduated from Harvard was 33.6%, more than five times the rate for everyone else … Harvard admitted 14.5% of early-action applicants for the class of 2022, and about 2.9% of regular-decision applicants.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Harvard: ‘Bubbly’ Candidates Rise to Surface

The New York Times: “Days before the opening of a trial accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, the college issued new guidance to its admissions officers earlier this month on what personalities it is seeking in its incoming freshmen, a question at the heart of the case. The new guidelines for the Class of 2023 caution officers that character traits ‘not always synonymous with extroversion’ should be valued, and that applicants who seem to be ‘particularly reflective, insightful and/or dedicated’ should receive high personal ratings as well.”

“One of the odder quirks of the trial testimony has been how often the word ‘effervescence’ has come up. It has been hammered home that Harvard values applicants who are bubbly, not ‘flat,’ to use another word in the Harvard admissions lexicon. Admissions documents filed in court awarded advantages to applicants for ‘unusually appealing personal qualities,’ which could include ‘effervescence, charity, maturity and strength of character.’ Now ‘reflective’ could be a plus as well.”

“The guidelines on assessing personal qualities also say that a top-rated student might have ‘enormous courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in life,’ or perhaps ‘a singular ability to lead or inspire those around them,’ or even ‘extraordinary concern or compassion for others.’ One thing has not changed. The lowest rating, once defined as ‘questionable or worrisome personal qualities,’ is still the same.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Unlocking The Mysteries of The Essay

The New York Times: “Documents showing that Harvard rated Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits than applicants of other races raise questions about how college admissions officers evaluate intangible criteria. What constitutes ‘likability’ or ‘courage?’ How do they know someone is ‘widely respected?’ … Most schools look at grade point averages and standardized test scores and may also review letters of recommendation, college essays and extracurricular activities. Colleges that do consider personal qualities are highly variable in the traits they look at and how they are ranked. Nor are they interested in disclosing their criteria.”

“In a study of 10 unidentified schools commissioned by the College Board, traits included ’emotional intelligence,’ ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘creativity’. Leadership, education experts said, is perhaps the most obvious and the most common trait colleges consider in applicants … Colleges don’t like to talk about this much, and officials don’t like to be pinned down. In general, they say they look for traits that reflect the college’s values or that make a student a ‘good fit’ for the institution.”

“Admissions officers say they look for a ‘hook’ in an applicant’s file that may lift the student into consideration, but just what that is hard to define … similar objections have been raised about the emphasis traditionally placed on standardized tests, which many experts believe fail to measure the potential of minority and low-income students. Earlier this week, the University of Chicago became the first elite research university in the country to drop the requirement that applicants submit ACT or SAT scores, instead announcing a program inviting students to submit a two-minute video introduction — where they can perhaps convey their likability.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail