Learn about how a student-led Strategic Educational & College Admissions Plan makes essay writing manageable and authentic!
Common App Essays– The COVID-19 Prompt returns,
There’s a new Core/Personal Statement Prompt
College Specific Supplement Essay Prompts
Common Application 2021-22
College Essay Tips– What to know about essays in 8th grade– and as a Rising Senior!
Welcome to my Fall Newsletter series on College essays
In Everything You Need to Know About College Applications, I describe all of the moving parts to College Applications and describe how the entirety of the high school career prepares you for your undergraduate experience and the process of submitting your college applications. While your high school transcript and test scores offer a measure of your ability to handle the academic rigors of the undergraduate experience, college essays are one the most effective way to set yourself apart from thousands of equally qualified and interested peers.
College Admissions Officers want to know two things about every applicant– and your essays are how you will provide that information:
1 Who are You ?
What are your passions and experiences that can tell us something about the student you’ll become within a university campus community? What brings you joy? How will you contribute? Below I’ll share examples of essay prompts that are asking this type of question and how to respond.
2 What “Problem” do you want to solve?
What do you want to learn alongside your peers on our college campus? This is a multi-part question. Knowing what you want to learn and being able to demonstrate “informed interest” about a specific university is an admissions advantage!
(It’s okay to be “multi-disciplinary” –in contrast-“undecided” – that’s not the message to present because “undecided”–doesn’t scream I WANT TO LEARN!!. Moreover, platitudes about esteemed faculty or dream schools mean absolutely nothing- read on- to understand more about what you need to show in your essays. All of this is truly a piece-of-cake if you’ve been engaged in directed and guided college research throughout your Sophomore and Junior years.)
While students don’t need to be worrying about writing their college essay in 8th or even 10th grades, I encourage everyone to begin implementing a student-led path of exploration of both personal and academic pursuits throughout middle and high school. Doing so will make high school more joyous, successful, less stressful and you’ll be in a much stronger position to write your college essays when it’s your time to submit your College Applications.
Transformative experiences both within and outside the classroom uniquely shape each young adult’s academic and personal identity. Experiences connecting with family and members of “communities” help our young adults become more introspective to learn how they will leverage their strengths to find their place in the world.
These same experiences are also the basis for the college essay(s) you’ll write during the college admissions application process (at the end of their junior year/start of senior year) providing readers of their college application with information that reveals who each student has become –and, in particular– the potential impact each young adult may have on a college campus and as a potential alum!
But most important, pre-college experiences build confidence, motivation and better prepare each student for a seamless transition to the undergraduate experience – academic and personal success throughout high school and beyond.
What’s your Educational & College Admissions Plan?
Our Rising Seniors– class of 2022 – you’re likely engaged in college research and we expect that campuses will begin to welcome visitors this fall– although the traditional senior campus overnight experiences are still on hold. You should be honing in on a short-list – the balance of reach, match and safety campuses. Don’t apply anywhere you wouldn’t be thrilled to attend. A “safety” shouldn’t feel like a consolation prize — but a campus community you see yourself thriving if you attend.
With college applications ahead, all students should ensure the appropriate coursework has been selected relating to the intended college major during your senior year applications. You simply cannot submit a college application to major in a STEM field without having ever taken an AP /IB/AICE science class- you’ll be unprepared for the rigorous lab work ahead and you’ll be a less competitive applicant.
Likewise- if you read my note on recommended AP courses- I highly recommend AP Macro or AP Micro and AP Statistics to prepare for a business degree. All of my AP course recommendations can be found in my AP Newsletter – the link on the header above covering course planning. Having advised thousands of high school, undergraduate and graduate students in my role as a university professor- please leverage my understanding of academic curriculum across a variety of fields – be prepared!
This newsletter provides information about the Common Application Essays (plural!!) relevant for all students and important insights about the COVID-Prompt returning a second year to the application process. There’s also a new core essay prompt. I’ll be discussing all these moving parts in this newsletter.
If you’re a regular reader of my blogs and newsletters, you’ve been following my tips on academics and extracurricular activities during the pandemic, revised AP/SAT/ACT exams, summer cancellations and closed college campuses. All of this left many students and parents wondering about the impact during this uncertain time on your high school student’s educational goals and college applications.
It’s daunting- confusing- uncertain–but you should know that college admissions officers are just like you- they understand what you’ve been through and prepared to take this all into account during the upcoming college application season. ***Most important- your goals haven’t changed– let’s keep that important perspective in mind!!
Rising Seniors – Class or ’22 should be ready to begin their college applications and should have questions about how all of these changes impact the process and chances of college acceptances.
SENIORS- ARE YOU READY FOR COLLEGE APPLICATION SEASON AND WRITING YOUR COLLEGE ESSAYS?
TIPS for College Admissions SUCCESS!
UNIQUE PRESENTATION MATTERS!!
Two of the most important ways in which you’ll distinguish yourself on your college applications from your equally qualified peers are your extracurricular activities (including honors and awards earned) and the content of your essay(s). Essays should reveal your strengths, passions and how you connect to others by sharing your experiences in a heartfelt and authentic essay.
Recognize that for each university, there are more qualified applicants than there are available spaces in the freshman class. A very large percentage of students have equivalent academic credentials including the appropriate/recommended high school curriculum and G.P.A., interesting and relevant extracurricular experiences, strong teacher recommendations and solid standardized test scores.
With acceptance rates in the single digits in the most selective undergraduate degree programs and your chances of acceptance at state flagship schools hovering at less than 50%, how do you make a difference and receive a college admissions acceptance letter?!
YOU SAID ESSAYS – How many essays are there exactly?
The short answer – there is at least one college application essay and for most colleges, there are as many as seven required responses to college-specific essay prompts!! Yes, you read that right!
Let’s look at the details!
This newsletter explores the five types of essays you’ll find on the 2021-22 common application.
– Core /Personal Statement (650 word max)
– College Specific Supplemental Prompts (150 to 800 words) Selective colleges have 1 to as many as 7 of these!
– Additional Information/Research Abstracts (650 word max) (Optional)
– COVID prompt (NEW prompt returns a second year!! ) 250 word max (Optional)
for some students School changes, school interruption and disciplinary action mini-prompts are required.
For “CREATIVES”: Visual and Performing Arts -(Art, ArchE, Dance, Music Performance, Film, Stagecraft, Photography, Journalism, etc.) – there are not only “portfolios” but essays on “artistic vision”
Let’s discuss the differences and how to tackle your essay(s). Even at one-essay-only colleges, there will often be a supplemental essay to receive consideration for Honors programs and/or academic scholarships.
THE COVID PROMPT
LET’s Start with the COVID Prompt!
Last year, the COVID prompt was introduced and we expect to see this prompt remain on the Common App at least until the high schoo class of 2024 applies to college. The College Board described their intentions about the new Common App optional section, during the 2020-21 application — the primary goal in providing students with an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by COVID-19. You may be wondering whether this section is one to respond to on your college application in addition to all the other essay prompts already in place.
The COVID-19 section allows students to explain how the pandemic shaped their personal and academic lives. It addresses “disruption” and missed opportunities as well as personal trauma.
Here’s the actual prompt that students will find on the Common App:
“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.”
In a earlier newsletter about what admissions officers consider I spoke about the importance of holistic admissions and the essential role college essays assume in sharing more about the individual applicant. This new and optional prompt is important because it establishes a unique space for each student to go one step further and explain anything that might be relevant for admissions officers to consider when evaluating their common application. By providing a separate and optional question, students have the balance of their application to share the stories that enable colleges to get to know each student apart from the COVID-19 impact.
Common Application COVID-prompt vs.
Personal Statement/Core Essay:
In previous newsletters about COVID-19 and college applications, I noted that it’s probably not a great way to present your best face as an applicant using the required Common App personal statement to discuss COVID-19, as so many other students might do so. Why do you want your subject matter to resemble the content provided by many other applicants? You don’t -and you want to stand out!
Your personal statement – or core essay is your opportunity to inform admissions officers about aspects of your unique identity/persona that aren’t revealed in any other section of your Common Application. COVID-19 is recent – and while it for some students this chapter of your life may have been tragic on a personal level- for the vast majority, although the past year was likely defined by disruption and adaption — so much more defines you and therefore for this reason- I’m thrilled that the Common App has created this dedicated and optional COVID prompt.
COVID Prompt- How to Reply?
Should You Reply?
The question is optional and appears in the Additional Information section of the common application. You may already know there’s another “Additional Information” question – I often recommend using that section to present research abstracts, provide more space for significant awards (as the Common App leaves space for only 5 –Hint: AP Distinction is NOT an award)!), or discuss unusual/unique personal circumstances.
Your response is limited to 250 words. The Common App has provided an FAQ page for the COVID prompt and suggests some of the appropriate topics that might be presented are: illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations. Maybe your grades suffered – maybe under COVID online learning models, your grades increased and you found a new resilience in the face of the disruption- all of this appropriate for responding to the question.
This is NOT the place to “brag” about buying groceries for a few of your elderly home-bound neighbors. In fact, that’s the very least any of us should have done as neighbors and citizens in a connected community. Being a good neighbor is NOT exceptional nor extraordinary behavior.
Moreover, if it took a pandemic for you to notice your neighbors in-need, that isn’t what you should be presenting in your Common App. In contrast, perhaps through shopping for your neighbors, you’ve reinforced your previous connection within your community in new ways revealing insights about yourself and others that changed a direction – that becomes the potential for an outstanding Personal Statement.
Please use your COVID 19 space wisely – but it is most certainly not another space to note an “accomplishment”.
Some examples include discussing missed opportunities– perhaps you were had qualified for international robotics or were accepted to a prestigious and selective summer research program – both of these cancelled in summer 2020- talk about how you refocused your emerging interests at home leveraging what options were available during these uncertain times.
If perhaps your plans for Subject tests, SAT or ACT exams during the 2019-20 or 2020-21 academic years and there were changes or the progression of your planned curriculum was impacted by cancelled classes or other disturbances to summer plans or competitions occurred-take advantage of this optional section to discuss what took place and how you have adapted.
Provide details but be concise and honest. I’m here to help you with an appropriate response and evaluate the extent to which the details are worthy of sharing on your Common Application. Always keep your focus on your educational objectives and relate to the college plan you have put into place.
The Common App is adding a section in the Secondary School Report where your high school guidance counselor can explain specifically how their students were impacted academically by changes at a personal and/or school-wide level. Perhaps your high school went to a pass/fail during the end of the 2019-20 year? Your counselor should support any of your individual specific experiences. Required secondary school reports will detail any changes at your high school that impacted all students.
As you head into the college application season, take pause and appreciate that college admissions officers know that your spring semester in 2019-20 was unique. Your grades may have suffered last year or even in the fall of 2020-21. The optional COVID prompt- provides all seniors ’22 an opportunity to elaborate while still being able to work on your traditional Common App core and supplemental essays. (Discussed below).
The new section is OPTIONAL and no one will not hold it against you if you opt out of replying to the COVID-19 query. This is an opportunity to provide additional details about any personal or academic challenges and change that may have resulted during this incredibly difficult and unforeseen time.
The “Additional Information” Section Will Remain on the COMMON App.
Again as noted, the optional COVID prompt doesn’t replace the Common App’s existing Additional Information section. If you’ve done research during the academic year or in a summer program, your research abstract should be placed here.
Have an impressive lengthy list of mathematics, robotics, or film awards exceeding the space provided elsewhere on the Common App for up to five “Honors and Awards” – this is a great place to include these.
Or perhaps, there was a tragic or disruptive experience that impacted your ability to reach your academic potential or participate in extracurricular experiences that might have informed and demonstrated your commitment to your intended major- this is another space to share those insights with College Admissions Officers.
Admissions officers are people too — their lives were also disrupted the past 18 months, their jobs may have gone remote, and they also endured cancellations and an inability to engage in their regular routine. Everyone appreciates the toll of the pandemic and no doubt you can rest assured that all of this will be considered as applications are evaluated for admission to the class of 2026.
As noted in my previous newsletter on testing – most colleges are continuing the test-optional policies applied extensively during the 2020-21 cycle making the college admissions process even more holistic and looking for ways to evaluate the high school class of 2022 that endured a very unusual junior year.
When extracurricular and summer plans were paused– or colleges visits and information sessions canceled, universities will re-evaluate other parts of the application that demonstrate connections to “informed interest”-teacher recommendations and essays will be heavily weighted in the coming application cycle.
Does your student have an Educational & College Admissions Plan? On Target?
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.
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Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. is the founder and principal educational consultant of College Career Consulting, LLC. She has over 30 years of experience as a university faculty member and shares her knowledge, professional resources and support with students who are ready to advance their lifelong educational and career journeys.