Assembling Your Application

Application Components

  • Common Application Form (or alternative: ‘Coalition for College’)
  • Optional materials (music, dance, drama, art portfolios, publications)
  • Student essay (part of the application form)
  • Application supplement – most colleges will also have their own supplement that you have to complete in addition to the main application form
  • Either SAT or ACT (now optional at many colleges – check the requirements for all colleges to which you are applying)
  • [Note that the SAT Subject Tests and the optional SAT essay were discontinued after the June 2021 administration]
  • Teacher recommendations and school report with grade transcript
  • Informal alumni interview in the UK (not offered by all colleges). Harvard interviews are undertaken by alumni/ae, either in person or remotely by Zoom, WhatsApp, or phone.

Further details of Harvard’s application requirements can be found here.

Common Application Form and Coalition for College

The two main application methods to US colleges, the Common Application and the Coalition for College, are similar to the UCAS form in the UK in that you complete it once and then the information is sent to all the schools you list in your application.

The Common Application Form (or ‘Common App.’)  is used by nearly 900 institutions, including some outside the US, so most applicants are likely to use this method.  Useful information and advice for students and teachers about completing the Common App form is contained in the Common App Ready Toolkit.

The Coalition for College  was launched a few years ago with the purpose of making the US college application system more accessible to students with modest means, particularly those whose high schools are unfamiliar with the application process.  It currently has over 150 member colleges, including Harvard.

The Student Essay

 The Common App. student essay titles for 2021/22 are as follows:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.


  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?
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking?  What was the outcome?


  1. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?


  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  2. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that 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?
  3. 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.

 We have collected a few good examples of past UK applicants’ Admissions Essays, just to show you what kinds of writing styles people have adopted.  Your own style may be very different; but you can see that the format is not the same as the UCAS Personal Statement.  We often find UK students really hesitant about writing something personal, so a little mental readjustment is necessary.  Try writing a draft of your essay and showing it to someone who knows you well.  Does your voice sound true?  Are you saying something about yourself that makes an interesting statement?  Will the reader learn something about you as a person that won’t be learned from the rest of your application?

Teachers’ Reports
The US application process involves drawing together references from teachers and/or university advisers, but their references ought to reflect not only your academic potential (which would be more typically UCAS), but also your personal qualities. So getting the right references is important. Start thinking about which teachers know you best as a person and would have something to say about your contribution not only to your subjects but also to the school community and beyond. Teachers can see good examples of Teacher Reports which we have assembled. It’s a good idea to draw your teachers’ attention to these in advance of when you need the reports so that they can see how the style and content differs from the UCAS model. Rather than asking them to produce a Report in the middle of the application season when they are busy with all the UCAS procedures, make sure you get that request in early!

School Transcript 

 The school transcript is a record of your secondary school grades that your school must send to all the colleges to which you have applied.  If your school needs a template to follow, the US-UK Fulbright Commission provides different Transcript Templates for the following groups of students:

  • Students sitting A levels in England only
  • Students in England sitting a combination of AS and A level exams
  • Northern Irish A level students
  • Welsh A level students
  • Students in Scotland
  • IB students

 The templates can be accessed from the School Documents page on the Fulbright Commission website.

Scroll down the page and click on ‘you can download our example’ under the ‘Transcript’ heading.

Supporting Materials
There may be further materials you want to submit – published poetry, music, artwork, science research, and so on. These materials are all optional and should only be submitted if you have reached a significant level of expertise in the field.  Check with each college to see how they wish to receive such materials. For Harvard, details of how to submit supplemental materials such as documents, articles and media (video, audio or images) can be found towards the bottom of the Application Requirements page of the College website.