As you head off into the summer, here's one last checklist. If you get some of these things done, you will be off to a good start when you return in the fall. And as a little added incentive, we've included links to prior posts with advice on each subject. Have a great vacation and make sure that in addition to researching colleges and writing your essays this summer, you rest, relax and recharge, as well.
Applying to college is like any big project that gets completed over time: it simply needs to be broken down into separate tasks. So in addition to continuing to research and refine the list of colleges to which they will apply and working on their essays, rising seniors also need to take a look at the Common Application when it comes available on August 1st. By starting now, you'll avoid feeling overwhelmed in fall semester of senior year.
Don't underestimate how important it is to understand and accurately complete the Common Application -- or any other college's unique form. The information colleges ask for in the application form serves as the foundation of your admission file.
Jane Kulow, a parent who blogs at Dr. StrangeCollege or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey, recently posted some strategies for applications and agreed to let us share her excellent advice here. (We've added a few notes of our own, as well.)
1. Print out the application form as soon as it’s available and complete the easy parts. (Common Application essay prompts are available now, but the actual form and supplements for the individual colleges will not be available until the Common App goes live on August 1st.)
We strongly urge you to have at least your Common Application essay in good shape before senior year begins. Fall of senior year is a busy time and writing your essays while attending school is like adding a class to your schedule. Summer provides the luxury of uninterrupted time to reflect and write. Here's some advice to kickstart your essays over the coming summer months -- from a suggested reading list that we hope will inspire to some excellent step-by-step guidance on the new Common Application essay prompts.
College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.
Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some. Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”
Laura Stewart, our March Counselor of the Month, had both a unique opportunity and challenge when she joined the college counseling program at Ensworth School, an independent college preparatory high school in Nashville, Tennessee. For 46 years -- since 1958 -- the school had served only elementary and middle school students. Then, in August, 2004, Ensworth added grades 9 through 12, opening the new 127-acre Devon Farm campus one month after Stewart joined the school as Assistant Director of College Counseling.
Over the next five years, Stewart rose to become Director of College Counseling -- in 2009, one year after Ensworth School graduated its first senior class. As a result, she has had the opportunity to participate in building a counseling program where there were no preconceived ideas. As Director, she has been able to establish policies and procedures that reflect a philosophy with her own creative stamp and then watch the program grow. "It's hard for me to imagine being anywhere else because I've been so fortunate to get to do what I want," says Stewart.
Purdue University, Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Oklahoma will start using the Common Application this August, according to an announcement today by Common Apps’ Board of Directors. These three universities are among 39 new members, bringing the total to 527. The new members include three public flagships, as well as five new international institutions and the first university from Hawaii -- Hawai'i Paciﬁc. The full listing can be found here.
In the final installment of our series on the changes to the writing section of the Common Application, Jeannine Lalonde, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at the University of Virginia -- and the force behind one of our favorite admission blogs "Notes from Peabody" -- joins us to talk about the new essay prompts and the role that the essay plays in admission decisions.
What are your thoughts about the new essay prompts?
I’m on the Common Application’s Apps Advisory Committee and the Outreach Committee shared the questions with us a few months ago. I was impressed with how the questions were defined, yet give the applicants freedom to go in whatever direction feels right to them.
I can still remember sitting in front of a blank piece of paper and being uncertain about how to start a personal statement for my college applications. These questions would have given me a nice jumping off point.
What impact, if any, do you see the new essay prompts having – on both college admission offices and applicants?
College advisor Alice Kleeman joins us today in our ongoing series on the changes to the Common Application with some excellent guidance for students and how to think about the new essay prompts and an entertaining look back on some of the essays that have been favorites in her twenty years advising students.
The five prompts that will appear on the “new” Common Application should allow for nearly any topic you might choose. Below are some suggestions for academic, extracurricular, and personal topics that might fit neatly into a response for each prompt. Of course, these are just suggestions, designed to jumpstart your thinking, provide a gentle nudge if you feel stumped, and to help you decide which prompt might provide the best opportunity for you to show the admission office who you are. Your response to any college-essay prompt should be entirely personal and one that only you could write; these examples are just to get your essay juices flowing!
Essay Prompt One:
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
“background,” “story,” “identity,” “incomplete without”
In our continuing series on the new changes to the Common Application, Douglas L. Christiansen, Vanderbilt University's vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions, joins us today to share his thoughts about the role of the essay in the admission decision as well as the impact of the new essay prompts and length limits.
What are your thoughts about the new Common Application prompts?
The Common Application’s new prompts were devised after months (indeed, years) of input from member institutions. To that end, I am confident that the prompts contain wisdom from colleagues who collectively have read hundreds of thousands of college essays. The array of topics is deliberately broad, in order to appeal to as wide a range of college-going seniors as possible. Each topic asks the student to hone in on one area of their experience and let the admissions officer get to know them through this particular experience. The new prompts are meant to elicit stories full of interesting details and experiences and I am looking forward to reading these essays. I believe the prompts will help applicants write more personal stories, allowing my colleagues to get to know many applicants a little bit better than they might have been able to in the past.