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Colleges Without Supplemental Essays: 2020

Back in 1975 when the Common App was first launched, it was truly a common application. Students filled out a form, wrote a short piece on a favorite extracurricular activity, and then their 650-word essay.

Over time, colleges started asking for supplemental essays as a way to get to know more about their applicants, make distinctions amongst a high-achieving applicant pool, and to better assess who was seriously interested in the school. Today, most colleges have two to four supplemental questions (long essays, short responses, lists) in addition to what’s being asked on the Common Application. So, applying to colleges is far from streamlined. We are almost back to where we were before the Common Application – different essays for different schools. But……

MOST but not ALL.

WHY?

There are still nearly 400 schools that accept the Common Application who don’t have additional supplements. That’s many good schools that don’t require supplemental essays and rely solely on the Common Application. So why don’t they ask any supplemental questions? Most likely, the decision falls into one of the following:

  • A desire to increase accessibility and attract more applicants. An application with lots of additional essays will deter students who lack the time to work on them. Essentially – get more kids to apply!
  • A much-more straightforward admissions process that is based primarily on scores, class rank, and GPA. Data drives these schools vs getting to know the candidates.

Whatever your reason for seeking a school that doesn’t require additional supplemental essays, we’ve got you covered.

SAMPLE LIBERAL ARTS SCHOOLS WITHOUT SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS

SAMPLE UNIVERSITIES WITHOUT SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS

ESSAY GUIDANCE

Whether your list of schools requires supplemental essays or not, or if you’re still working on your Common Application essay – we’re here to help you share your voice, your vision and your true scholarly selves to college admissions officers and can help you craft compelling essays.

“T was accepted early decision to Boston College! Thank you so, so much for all of the help and guidance that you provided us over the past 6 months. I can’t imagine there are many (if any!) people out there who are better than you at what you do! Thank you for your patience, prompt replies, and for keeping T on track! We are very grateful to have found you and worked with you!”

– D.M., Essay Guidance Program parent
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Do College Rankings Really Matter?

In September, U.S. News & World Report, the leading authority in college rankings, announced the 2021 U.S. News Best Colleges list. For the 10th straight year, Princeton University has earned the #1 spot, followed by Harvard University and Columbia University. Likewise, on the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges, Williams College has maintained its #1 position, with Amherst College and Swarthmore College coming in at #2 and #3, respectively. Now that prospective students are unable to attend traditional on-campus info sessions and campus tours, rankings carry extra weight as students turn to “expert data” to create their college lists.

HOW MUCH COLLEGE RANKINGS MATTER

This year more than ever, we have been asked how much college rankings really matter. And if, in the past, these rankings have been directly correlated with standardized test scores of accepted students, what are the new metrics that have been used to determine this year’s list as colleges go test-optional? How reliable are these methodologies?

In response to the pandemic’s ongoing disruptions and ripple effect on college admissions, this year’s US News rankings include three new topics: student debt, social mobility, and test-blind admissions policies. For the first time, they have also ranked schools that don’t use the SAT or ACT for the purpose of admissions.

U.S. News has published the updated breakdown of key data used to determine overall rank. The six factors are weighted as follows:

Outcomes (40%, previously 35%)

Its success at retaining and graduating students within 150% of normal time (six years). We approach outcomes from angles of graduation and retention (22%), graduation rate performance (8%), social mobility (5%) and, new this year, graduate indebtedness (5%).

Faculty Resources (20%)

U.S. News uses five factors from the 2019-2020 academic year to assess a school’s commitment to instruction: class size (8%), faculty salary (7%), faculty with the highest degree in their fields (3%), student-faculty ratio (1%) and proportion of faculty who are full time (1%).

Expert Opinion (20%)

Each year, top academics – presidents, provosts and deans of admissions – rate the academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). We take a two-year weighted average of the ratings. The 2021 Best Colleges ranking factors in scores from both 2020 and 2019.

Financial resources (10%)

This is determined based on average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

Student Excellence (7%, previously 10%)

The ACT/SAT scores and high school class rank of accepted students.

Alumni giving (3%, previously 5%)

The average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2017-2018 and 2018-2019.

While this updated breakdown has reduced the weight given to SAT and ACT scores, high school class standing, and alumni donations in response to the shifting admissions landscape, these factors still matter and are a significant part of the raw material that informs the final list. Furthermore, as noted on their website, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means that the “current” policies and procedures collected in spring 2020 may have changed since the rankings were determined.

CHANGES IN COLLEGE RANKINGS –BUT NOT ENOUGH

H. Holden Thorp, the Editor-in-Chief of Science, former provost of Washington University in St. Louis, and former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has publicly called for the suspension of college rankings during this time of crisis. In his article, published in May, he makes his case clear:

“A truly transformative move in this moment of crisis would be to suspend testing requirements and college rankings. This is not a time for undergraduate institutions to be using precious resources to chase these numbers. Rather, they need to support struggling students and other members of the academic community so that education can resume this fall in a manner that is fair to all. Some schools are already making test scores optional for the time being, and hopefully that requirement will never return. Ranking colleges and universities changed higher education, mostly for the worse. Now is the time for institutions to suspend those rankings and, when the crisis is over, bring them back in a more progressive form.”

– H. Holden Thorp, the Editor-in-Chief of Science

Other college rankings, such as the Washington Monthly’s 2020 rankings, have responded to this social pressure. Although they still published their rankings in August, they have made an effort to emphasize diversity and social consciousness in their calculations and approach. As they explain, “It’s our answer to U.S. News & World Report, which relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige.” To calculate a college’s commitment to diversity, for example, they use IPEDS data “to measure the percentage of students at each institution receiving Pell Grants, and College Scorecard data to measure the percentage of first-generation students at each school.” For the first time, they have also listed the schools that make sure majors popular with Black students (social work, criminal justice, and sociology) lead to well-paying jobs. See that list here.

Money’s annual Best Colleges for Your Money ranking, published in August, used a methodology based on 27 factors in three categories: Quality of education (30% of weighting), Affordability (40% of weighting), and Outcomes (30% of weighting). In response to the economic outlook this year, they increased the emphasis on affordability. They also added two new net price figures to “capture affordability for students from middle-income backgrounds alongside our existing measure of net price for low-income students.”

Finally, this year’s Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education 2021 rankings consider similar metrics to assess colleges in four areas: Outcomes (salary graduates earn, debt burden they accrue), Resources (the spending schools put into instruction and student services), Engagement (student survey), and Environment (diversity of the community). It is critical to note, however, that, due to the pandemic and shutdown of college campuses, the student survey (20% of the ranking) was canceled for this year. As such, the WSJ/THE rankings use the scores obtained by institutions last year.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In many ways, these rankings will only continue to exasperate the inequities in higher education, made more acute by the ongoing pandemic. While the ranking organizations have made some efforts to add transparency to their process, the data is simply not consistent or dependable at this stage, and a considerable amount of data this year was re-used from the 2019 lists, which did not take into account new admissions procedures or the reality of campus life during COVID-19. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the rankings are largely the same as years past. While some of the metrics offered by these publications can be useful, they should be consulted with care and some degree of skepticism. For personalized guidance and a winning application strategy that takes into account the ever-shifting landscape in real time, contact us today about our Private Counseling Program or Application Boot Camp.

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2020-2021 Supplemental Essay Prompts: Early Releases

The first day of summer has arrived and with it, a new application season has begun. Colleges across the country are beginning to release their supplemental essays, well in advance of the application deadlines, so that students can get a jump start on their materials. These essays complement the longer Main Essay and provide applicants with opportunities to share additional information about their leadership, meaningful activities, community engagement, and intellectual experiences.

As with last year’s supplements, there is a strong “Why Essay” trend this year. In order to gauge your genuine interest in a particular school, admissions officers want to see that you have done your homework and can make a case for why you would be a good fit. Brown, for instance, asks: “Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it. (250 words)” Other schools, like Cornell, ask applicants to respond to the essay question that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which they are applying (i.e. the College of Arts and Sciences or one of the other six colleges on campus.) The University of Chicago, notorious for the most creative supplemental questions (written by the previous year’s incoming class), offers seven options for the extended supplemental essay. One of the more irreverent options asks, “What can actually be divided by zero?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your supplements, you are not alone. We are here to help! This summer is the perfect time to work on your supplemental essays, especially now that you have unexpected free time at home due to COVID.

Don’t delay. The more you can do NOW, the more you can focus on your senior year grades without the added stress of college applications. On August 1, the Common App, the most popular application platform, will officially “go live,” but there’s no reason to wait to start your essays until then. Work one-on-one with one of our senior counselors to craft unique, stand-out essays with our College Essay Program. Or enroll in our trademark Application Boot Camp ® , which takes place over the course of four days in August and has a few remaining seats as of today.

THE VARIOUS APPLICATION PLATFORMS

Note: Some schools, like Georgetown University, use their own application. Students interested in Georgetown must first complete and submit the Georgetown Application (a short form), which initiates the alumni interview and grants you access to the official application platform. The University of California likewise uses their own distinct application for their nine campuses.

2020-2021 SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPTS

We’ll continue to update this list as supplements are released. Feel free to note any schools we might’ve missed in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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2020-2021 Common App Essay Prompts

UPDATE May 14, 2020

On May 12, the Common App announced a new COVID-19 question, which will appear on the 2020-2021 application. This optional essay will be located in the Additional Information section of the Common App.

The COVID-19 question will read as follows:

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 (250 word limit)

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Students may wish to discuss shifting family obligations, education disruptions, ways they have helped others, or how they have used their time at home to pursue new interests. This question will not replace the preexisting Additional Information essay, which has a 650 word limit.

Within the recommendation system, there will also be a place for your school counselor to discuss how the pandemic has affected your school specifically. This optional question, located within the School Profile section, will appear as below:

Your school may have made adjustments due to community disruptions such as COVID–19 or natural disasters. If you have not already addressed those changes in your uploaded school profile or elsewhere, you can elaborate here. Colleges are especially interested in understanding changes to:

  • Grading scales and policies
  • Graduation requirements
  • Instructional methods
  • Schedules and course offerings
  • Testing requirements
  • Your academic calendar
  • Other extenuating circumstances

*************************************************************

We have good news for students who like to plan ahead! The Common App has announced the 2020-2021 essay prompts, which will remain the same as last year.

After conducting a survey of over 10,000 people in December to gather feedback, the Common App determined that the seven current essay prompts successfully serve its students and member colleges. For the most part, we agree. As you begin to think about your Common App essay, however, be sure to read these prompts carefully and take time to brainstorm how you might answer each question effectively. Before you commit to a specific prompt, consider the key points you want to convey to an admissions committee and how each prompt would allow you to craft a compelling narrative that complements the rest of your application materials.

We are often asked which prompts lead to the best essays (and, indeed, we think some are MUCH better than others). For expert guidance as you navigate this and other essays, we offer College Application Essay Guidance, in either 5 or 10-hour blocks.  Work with one of our Senior Counselors to select a prompt and determine the best essay topic and strategy based on your background, interests, and target schools.

COMMON APP ESSAYS PROMPTS: TOP TIPS

As you review the seven Common App prompts (below), we have a few quick tips!

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
    • TTA Tip: You don’t need to take this prompt literally and shouldn’t try to write a memoir in 650 words. In fact, that approach would lead to a weak essay by trying to cover too much ground. Avoid writing an overly personal story that offers too many intimate details. Your “story” could instead be about your evolving love of chemistry or longstanding interest in World War 2. In other words, remember your audience!
  1. 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?
    • TTA Tip: The key to this prompt is in the final phrase–what did you learn from the experience? Beware of focusing too much on your failure or wallowing in negativity. Use this essay as an opportunity to show the reader how you think and how you problem solve!
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
    • TTA Tip: With this prompt, it’s important to use specific examples without alienating your reader. While it’s great to show your engagement with the news and current events, you want to ensure this essay is about YOU and not a specific political cause or proving someone wrong.
  1. 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 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.
    • TTA Tip: Have you conducted STEM research? Spent hours tracing your family history in a local archive? This prompt is an excellent way to showcase your research experience—especially anything you’ve done outside your school assignments!
  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
    • TTA Tip: Be careful to avoid cliché here. This is not the time to talk about your NOLS trip or varsity soccer championship game. Instead, consider choosing a specific accomplishment or event that will help an admissions committee understand your love of learning.
  1. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?
    • TTA Tip: This is an excellent prompt for students who have engaged with research or learning beyond their regular coursework. Did you use the time at home during COVID-19 to pursue a hobby or unique academic interest? This prompt allows you to showcase any academic enrichment that doesn’t appear elsewhere in your application.
  1. 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.
    • TTA Tip: This prompt gives you the most flexibility, which can work to your advantage if you have an essay that doesn’t neatly answer one of the prompts above. The overwhelming array of possibilities, however, can often cause paralysis when you sit down to begin writing. If you think you might struggle with too much freedom, perhaps this isn’t the best prompt for you!