Common App Board Admits Mistakes

common-app-picThis past admissions season, thousands of students were caught off guard by technological glitches, missing or incorrect essay questions, and a host of other issues that occurred while preparing and submitting the Common App. In an attempt to regain public confidence, the Common App hired Censeo, a DC-based consulting firm, to survey members and investigate the causes of the catastrophe. See this article by Nancy Griesemer for a summary of the findings including:

  • Numerous glitches were due to inefficient and insufficient testing
  • The timeline for rolling out CA4 was unrealistic given the scope of the project and member feedback was not considered
  • Decision-making throughout the organization was not well-organized enough to handle wide-spread issues in a timely manner

Regardless of whether or not the Common App is able to sort out its issues going forward, there's one lesson our grateful members learned last season: be proactive and do not rely on the Common App to provide all of your essay questions. College Essay Organizer members not only got timely notifications as to when supplemental essays were available, but they also got all the essay questions (even the many not available through the Common App) all in one place, and organized by topic so students were ready to write.

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UChicago 2014-2015 Essay Questions Posted

chicagoIf you missed this earlier in the month, check out these 2014-2015 essay questions posted here by University of Chicago, and be sure to read the note that follows them:

In the spirit of unadventurous inquiry, student applicants to the Class of 2019 will be asked to respond, briefly, to one of the following prompts. We guess.

  • From bed to couch, front yard to back yard, reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to new episodes of Judge Judy, every school-free summer is special. Tell us: what did you do on your summer vacation?
  • If you could be the president of any school club, of which school club would you be president, and why?
  • Select an inspirational quote from, and describe, in great detail, its relevance to your life. 
  • Sports: yes or no?
  • We’ve all had the experience of having to take the stairs. Tell us about one time when you had to take the stairs. Inspired by Daniel C, AB ‘10.
  • In lieu of an essay, please submit one (1) selfie. 
  • If you were reaching for the moon, but instead you fell among the stars, how would you feel? 
  • Please write an acrostic poem for which the anchor word is “COLLEGE”. 
  • What was your favorite standardized test question? Please feel free to reflect on the entirety of your standardized test taking experience.
  • Books are alright. Which ones do you like?

[Note: ok, yes, we admit it now— this was a little April Fools day joke! Look forward to seeing our real prompts coming up in early Summer, and we’d like to lovingly and respectfully note that submitting one (1) selfie DOES NOT constitute writing your own prompt.]

Unfortunately, essay writing will never be that easy, especially for a top college, and it is still a bit early for colleges to start releasing their supplemental questions (we'll let you know when they do). However, for the eager beavers out there, you can start working on your Common App main essay as the prompts have already been updated in your College Essay Organizer accounts.


Student Accepted to All Eight Ivies

kwasiWe all love feel-good stories, and this is not one to miss! Kwasi Enin, a first-generation American from Ghana attending a large public school in Long Island, applied to all eight ivy league schools and got eight acceptance letters back. For those parents who want to rethink their parenting style, he credits his "helicopter parents" for encouraging him to strive to be the best he can be. His hard work evidently paid off, and he is now deciding which school to attend in the fall, giving the most consideration to the financial aid offers he receives.  While for many of this year's applicants this story may be ill-timed, it can also be an opportunity to forget about ourselves and celebrate someone else's accomplishments. Go Kwasi!

To read more about Kwasi, and to read the stand-out essay that got him in, click here.


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What To Do When You're Wait Listed

Professing your love to a college is good, but roses may be a bit too much.

Maybe you were accepted to a couple colleges that you'd be happy with, but you were wait listed to your top choice. How can you distinguish yourself from all the other wait listed students, sometimes numbering into the thousands? Colleges want to know that if they extend an offer it will be accepted. Commitment letters are a constructive and effective way to share your passion with a college and send an update on your accomplishments from the last few months. Make sure to discuss this with your counselor as well so that he or she is willing to reach out to the college and support your efforts. Please see below for the first paragraph of a commitment letter used by one successful applicant, and this link will give you a few more guidelines on what to include:

"Thank you so much for continuing to consider me via your wait list as a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 2015. Penn is absolutely my top choice, and if I am accepted, I will absolutely attend. My yearning to be a part of, and contribute to, Penn’s extraordinary student experience has grown exponentially in the past few months, and I hope that this letter will demonstrate my sincere commitment."

The student then goes on to discuss the qualities that he liked most about the school and to update the school on his recent most  impressive academic and extracurricular accomplishments.



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Juniors: Start Your College Visits

What are the top 10 things you're looking for in a college?

What are the top 10 things you're looking for in a college?

While seniors wait to receive decisions from colleges and struggle to stay engaged in their classes so as to finish the year off strong, juniors are gearing up for the long haul in front of them. First on the agenda is most likely college visits. These trips are the best way to begin to understand what you are looking for in a college, and for that reason it's best to tour a wide range of colleges including public and private schools of different sizes and specialties. You may already feel strongly about one type of college, but what you experience firsthand could surprise you, so be open-minded.  If you're just getting started, here are some basics that you need to know:

  • Be sure to research the admission pages of a college's website before you go, and try to connect with the college representative for your high school while on campus. You can also request an appointment with a professor, financial aid officer, or be connected with a current student during your visit.
  • Scheduling a visit can usually be done online through a college's website, but be sure to reserve several weeks in advance to make sure that you have a spot when you arrive.
  • The best times to visit are during your spring or fall break, but it's best if college classes are in session when you arrive as you want to get a realistic feel of day-to-day student life.
  • Visits are best with a parent or caretaker who is supporting you through the process. Attending with friends may take away from your personal reaction to a campus.
  • Begin visiting local colleges, followed by a few of your top choice schools that may be farther afield as you narrow your list
  • Expect the visit to begin with an introduction by an admission representative which includes a question-and-answer session. You will then take a group walking tour of the campus which may end with lunch in the student cafeteria.
  • After returning home, be sure to send a note or email thanking your representative, and stay in touch with colleges that remain on your list. Keep a file for each college containing notes and photos that will help you remember your experiences as you compare colleges.

Forming your college list can be a great time to explore your personal interests and likes and dislikes. Avoid choosing a college simply because of who else did attend/will be attending it, and try to form your own opinion so that your college years can be as rewarding as possible.

For more information on taking advantage of your college visits, check out this article.

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New SAT Test to Debut in 2016

satWe've been hearing about the new SAT for a while now, and yesterday additional details were revealed by College Board president David Coleman who criticized both the SAT and ACT as straying away from learning. Many were quick to point out that the ACT has always steered in that direction more than the SAT, and as president of ACT's education division expressed, "It seems like they’re mostly following what we’ve always done.”

Here are a few of the central changes as summed up in this article:

  • The SAT will return to a 1,600-point scale with a maximum of 800 in math and reading taken in three hours, and an optional 50 minute essay scored separately.
  • There will no longer be a guessing penalty where points are deducted for wrong answers.
  • Vocabulary will focus on commonly-used college-level words, rather than words that are out of use.
  • Reading passages will contain excerpts from "founding documents" and historical texts, as well as source documents from science, social studies, and other disciplines.
  • Math will focus on the type of math required in college courses and beyond including linear and complex equations,  ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will only be used on some sections.
  • The optional essay will require analysis on how the author has used evidence and reasoning to support his position.

Check here for the unveiling of a sample of the new SAT on April 16.

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Director of Common App Steps Down

CA logoThe Common App was riddled with technological glitches this season causing an explosion of activity on College Essay Organizer. Who else could students turn to when supplements were not being released on time, and key essay questions were often missing? Not only did we email thousands of students weekly lists detailing which colleges' supplements had released, but we also provided the complete list of essay questions even when they were not available on the Common App.

While the Common App has gotten many of its issues under control, it has been unclear how things will be handled in the coming season, and whether or not past promises (such as all college supplements being released at once on August 1) will be kept. No matter what happens post Rob Killion stepping down, we can tell you that College Essay Organizer will continue to step up and provide students with the confidence needed to complete essays as accurately and early as possible.

For more information on the Common App's change in leadership, refer to Nancy Greisemer's article here.

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May 1 is Universal Decision Day

Since it often feels like the student is completely out of control in the application process, it's good to know that you do have rights. As members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Common App member schools have agreed to give admitted first-year students who have applied regular decision or early action till May 1 to accept or decline an offer to attend. This means that if a college requests you to reply before May 1 (and you have not applied early decision), an extension will be provided upon written request. Here is a list of regulations:

  • You can wait until May 1 to respond to an offer of admission and/or financial aid, unless you applied Early Decision. 
  • Colleges that request commitments prior to May 1 must extend you the opportunity to request an extension until May 1 that will not affect your offer for admission and/or financial aid.
  • Wait/alternate list notifications need to include the number of students on the waitlist, the number of students offered admission, and the availability of financial aid and housing.
  • You are not obligated to give a deposit or written commitment in order to remain on a waitlist.
  • You must be notified of your waitlist status by August 1.

Click here to see more of your student rights and responsibilities as published on the NACAC site.

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Tell Us About Your Interview Gaffes

There are some things that you could do in an interview that really could ruin your chances.

There are some things that you could do in an interview that really could ruin your chances.

Waiting to hear whether or not you got into a college may just be the toughest part of the college admissions process. Even though all the work is done, if you are a worrier, suddenly having additional time on your hands to think about all your worst-case scenarios can prove to be quite stressful and exhausting. And if you happened to have had a bad interview, you may think that you completely ruined your chances of getting into your dream college. Fortunately, the interview plays only a small role in getting in, and is certainly less important than your college essays, grades, and test scores. Interview gaffes do make great stories though, especially if you do end up getting an acceptance letter. Here is an example from this article of one student who did end up getting into MIT:

“I put my hand down on the table just after he put the tea on the table. What I didn’t realize was that this was the tipsiest table ever, and this enormous kettle of tea spilled onto my interviewer’s lap, so there’s your first impression.”

We'd love to hear your most memorable interview stories. Please send them to us at We'll post the best ones (anonymously of course).


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Wheaton College Accepting Applications Through January 31


wheatonYet another school graciously extends its application deadline, in this case, two weeks from 1/15 to 1/31. Here's the heart-warming letter Wheaton sent out to its applicants:

We're deep into reading the thousands of admission applications that arrived before the regular decision deadline yesterday. But we've noticed that there is one application missing: yours.

Just in case you forgot to press the "submit" button, we're happy to announce that you've got until January 31 to send us your Wheaton application. We've had enough experience to know that in the crush of things to do as a college applicant, time and technology (this year) can get the best of you.

Simply return to, ignore the published application deadline, finish filling out the forms you started for Wheaton, and hit "submit"! It's that easy.

One important reminder: Don't forget to tell your counselor and teachers that you are applying to Wheaton so they can submit your transcript and recommendations to complete your file.

Good luck! We look forward to receiving your application very soon!


Gail Berson
Vice President for Enrollment
Dean of Admission and Student Aid