When writing a college essay, it's always necessary to think about which topics are acceptable and which may not be so well received. Since colleges often encourage you to "take a risk," and "show who you really are," choosing the right topic can be a tough call. This New York Times article by Steven Petrow gets to the heart of the matter addressing the charged question, "Should a student conceal her lesbian identity in college application essays?"
Petrow found that student views varied widely with some current students not wanting to mention sexual orientation in case it could affect chances of admission, while others felt that it might even increase changes of admission at schools where diversity was encouraged. A portion of students who had written on the topic during their admissions process felt that it did cause them to be rejected from schools that they should have been admitted to.
Opinions among admissions officers vary widely as well. In the end, it is a personal choice as to what a student considers private vs. a sharable story that is central to a student's identity. According to one comment that was left, what you decide could have an impact at some schools, "I sit on an admissions committee and it's just that - a committee, with all that entails...One or two of our members are not quite with the changing times. We often have to vote, and I can recall several times when the decision was swayed against the candidate on the basis of something they had bravely confided in their personal essay. Touchy issues are certainly not limited to sexual orientation. I don't want people to have too many illusions about the wisdom of admissions committees!"
College Essay Organizer founder and president Daniel Stern was recently quoted by independent consultant and journalist Nancy Griesemer for this article in the examiner.com discussing the increase in frequency of the option to submit a graded paper: "Graded papers allow applicants to showcase their writing and reasoning skills on their own terms—the SAT and ACT essays are a bit of a joke and aren’t taken that seriously by colleges because of how they are scored." As colleges explore ways to make the application process more holistic and predictive of future academic success, more schools are adding test-optional policies which require students to submit a graded paper in lieu of test scores.
Griesemer provides the following tips on how to make the best impression when submitting a writing sample:
- Though over 20 Common App schools accept writing samples, there is rarely a mention of this included on the supplement. Make sure to thoroughly check each school's website or use College Essay Organizer to instantly see all the essay requirements for your list of colleges regardless of whether requirements are found on the Common App or on outside websites.
- Don't worry too much about the grade. A lower grade on a high-quality paper can show that the school sets a high standard for its students, while a high grade on a poorly written paper will not only represent you poorly, but your school as well.
- Make sure to hold on to graded copies so that you have a wide range of samples to choose from when the time is right.
Over 40 colleges recently extended their early deadlines to account for Common App glitches that continue to complicate the admissions process. In response, the Common App released a statement of commitment apologizing for its lack of responsiveness and promising to resolve all outstanding issues as quickly as possible. November 8, a popular extended deadline is fast approaching. As an aside, the deadline is at 11:59pm your local time. It does not matter what time zone the school you're applying to is in. Here's an update on some recent concerns:
- The Common App recently added several more staff to decrease response times, so you can expect quick assistance if you submit a help ticket.
- If you see a payment error on the dashboard with a zero dollar amount, please make sure that you answered the Citizenship question with the Profile section of the Common Application.
- PDF previews can now be generated.
- If you see an error page upon submission, log out of your account, and then log back in and it should display confirmation that the application was submitted.
- Follow up with colleges to make sure that all parts of you're application has been received as there are still outstanding issues.
Check out the Common App's facebook page for daily updates on the status of widespread issues you may be facing.
Students, high schools, and colleges using the Common App this season have been faced with numerous challenges from missing, hidden and late appearing questions (we've gotten tons of thanks from our members for covering them on this end) to submitting and pasting errors.
Here's one more error we want you to have on your radar. Text box lengths for several schools have changed lengths since supplements first went live. We want you to be aware of this so that you can stay on top of any changes and not be stuck cutting down or expanding your essay at the last minute. Please be sure to check your College Essay Organizer accounts for any recent changes and practice pasting in text from a text editor well before the application due date so that you can ensure a good fit. Please email us at email@example.com if you have any specific questions about this. We're always here to help.
The Common App recently sent out an email to members in an attempt to gain back user trust, which has been slowly eroding following months of technological glitches leading to schools across the country beginning to extend early application deadlines. The letter describes how the Common App will begin revamping its approach:
"As an organization, we have been too slow to respond. That ends today. We have written this communication to highlight three core values of our mission, explain how we have fallen short in realizing them, and provide details about how we pledge to do better."
Members can now subscribe here for daily updates on the status of current glitches the Common App is working through. Unfortunately, many of the ongoing issues will not be fixed in time for early applicants. If you would like to know more about the Common App's issues and how to avoid them, you can log into your College Essay Organizer account and click on the Essay Access tab to register for our upcoming webcast on Oct. 29 at 8pm entitled, "The Common Mis-App: Avoiding the Glitches and Submitting in Style."
Christoph Guttentag, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University, recently sent an email about the deadline being extended from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8 to thousands of potential applicants. He also vowed to keep the mid-December decision notification date the same, increasing the pressure on admissions officers to complete their gargantuan task in less time. Dozens of colleges are expected to follow Guttentag's lead issuing the first known extension due to technological glitches (following a Hurricane Sandy-induced extension last year).
Will the Common App's struggles lead to schools finding other alternatives to the Common App next year? Click here to listen to Guttentag's interview with Marketplace on this issue.
As if students and colleges don't have enough on their minds already, here's another blunder by the Common App which continues to be fraught with problems since the launch of its new system on August 1. This year, the Common App requires that students paste their main essay into a text box to ensure that the length is not less than 250 words and no more than 650 words. While students have noticed numerous formatting issues and even parts of their essay missing when pasting text into the temperamental boxes, many are yet to notice that the boxes are not accurately counting the number of words being pasted in.
For those students pasting in from a text editor, you will escape this issue and many of the formatting issues as well, but for the majority of students pasting their essay from Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, or another word processor, you may be shocked by the initial word count you see, which appears to reduce the length of an essay by as much as 70 words. But don't panic! After you've diligently removed all the additional spaces that the Common App added in, the word counts will display correctly. So as you deal with the myriad other Common App issues this season, definitely keep this one in mind.