Three methods for applying to US colleges for entry in September 2017
If you are at the end of Year 12 and want to apply to study in the US next year, the best time to put together your application is between now and September. The summer holidays are the ideal time to choose which application method you will use, and to put together as much of your application as possible. When you start the autumn term of Year 13 you will be very busy with your UCAS application, so the more of your American application materials you can compile beforehand, the better.
In addition to the two existing application methods – the Common Application Form and the Universal College Application – this year a third application method is being introduced, called the Coalition. Harvard and a few other colleges will accept all three application types – however, many colleges only accept one or two of them, or in some cases have their own individual application forms. Therefore an important factor in your preparation is to find out which application methods are accepted by the colleges on your shortlist, as you will want to avoid having to complete more than one type of form if possible.
Further details on all three methods appear below, together with links to the relevant websites.
1. Common Application Form (Common App) www.commonapp.org
Although not all US colleges accept the Common App, it is nevertheless used by over 600 institutions, including all the top research universities, so most applicants are still likely to use this method. The online Common App form usually goes live on 1st August, but since the 2016-17 form is unchanged from last year, accounts created before 1st August will automatically roll over, meaning that you may register as soon as you want. So if you want to use this method, create your account now on the Common Application website.
Also bear in mind that approximately two-thirds of Common Application member universities will also want you to complete their own supplements, which all require short pieces of writing in addition to the personal essay that makes up Section 11 of the main Common App. The supplements will be unique for each individual university and are located within the ‘My Colleges’ section of the form. You may wish to check the supplement section for each college you’re applying to, and consider all of the essays and the personal essay together to ensure you are not repeating yourself and that the various pieces of writing complement each other.
2. Universal College Application (UCA) www.universalcollegeapp.com
An alternative to the Common App is the Universal College Application (UCA). It currently serves 44 colleges, rather fewer than the Common App, but if all the colleges to which you are applying accept the UCA then it is worth checking it out to see if you prefer it. The online advice site PrepScholar suggests you use the UCA if:
- You’re only applying to schools that accept the UCA and you prefer the UCA’s interface.
- You’re only applying to schools that don’t require an essay and/or letters.
- You have a specific essay topic in mind that doesn’t fit within the Common App’s prompts.
It suggests you keep with the Common App if:
- You are applying to schools that don’t accept the UCA and/or schools that are Common App only. This will likely be the case for the majority of students.
- Most or all of the schools you’re applying to require at least one letter of recommendation and essay. Since these features are required on the Common App, it will simplify your application process to have them as required, rather than optional, components.
Click here to read the full PrepScholar article.
3. The Coalition www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org
Starting this year, a new type of college application is coming onstream. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, better known as ‘the Coalition’, currently has 93 colleges signed up, including all eight Ivy League schools, Stanford and the University of Chicago. One of its innovations is that the online platform contains a ‘Coalition Locker’ and ‘Collaboration Space’.
The Coalition Locker is a private area where students from the 9th Grade onwards (UK Year 10 onwards) may collect and store examples of their work to gradually build up their US college application portfolio for submission in Year 13. The Locker provides unlimited online storage space for resources and materials relevant to the student’s application, such as essays, artwork, videos, class projects, extracurricular activities, awards and letters of support from instructors, coaches, or supervisors. The contents of the Locker are confidential and can only be accessed by the student.
The Collaboration Space enables students to privately share or discuss items from their Lockers with teachers or mentors of their choosing. This is how it works: the student firstly emails the mentor requesting their input. The email will connect the mentor with the Collaboration Space, which will contain the items the student wishes to share. After reviewing the items, the mentor can provide comments for the student, who will receive a numbered notification in the items box indicating that feedback is ready. When the student opens the item, the mentor’s comments will appear in a side bar. Mentors are permitted to comment on, but not to make changes to any shared item. Having a trusted mentor’s comments can help students polish their ideas and hone their work.
When a student is finally ready to complete their application, they may choose which materials to transfer from the Locker to the Coalition application form.
A major difference between the Coalition and the other two application methods is that students may still use the Locker to store their work even if they will be applying via the Common App or UCA. Hence the Coalition may be used alongside other methods, as well as an application platform in its own right. Its purpose is to make the US college application system more accessible to students with modest means, particularly those whose high schools are unfamiliar with the application process.
The Coalition platform and tools are free to use for students, parents and teachers, as the colleges and universities who are members provide the necessary resources to support the operation of the Coalition.
Only time will tell whether the Coalition becomes fully established and popular with college applicants, but it is certainly an innovative concept that deserves to succeed.
Make good use of your summer holidays
If you are at the end of Year 11 or 12, you can use the summer holidays to make yourself more attractive to admissions tutors on both sides of the Atlantic (no, we don’t mean a new set of clothes or a trendy haircut!) You can do this by undertaking:
- an internship or work experience in an area related to your potential future career
- community service or other extracurricular activity that you have set up through your own initiative
- a mini research project related to an area of study that particularly interests you, again that you have set up through your own initiative.
If your summers are committed to paid work or family responsibilities, why not keep a journal of your observations and experiences during that time? Such careful thinking and musings might well turn into the inspiration for your college essay (which we will be considering in more detail in next month’s newsletter).
At least one top US college specifically asks in their application supplement to describe what you have been doing during your previous two summer holidays. Given that nearly all students applying to top colleges will be very accomplished academically, it is often your additional interests and achievements that will make the difference between being offered a place or not.