In this issue:
- High turnout at Harvard booth for Virtual USA College Day
- Applying to Harvard during COVID-19 restrictions
- The difference between ‘Early Action’ and ‘Regular Action’ when applying to a US college
- What you should be doing now if you will be applying to Harvard next autumn
- Links to the free online practice material for the SAT and ACT
- SAT and ACT test dates for 2020/21
High turnout at Harvard booth for Virtual USA College Day
The first ever Virtual USA College Day, run by the US-UK Fulbright Commission, was held on Saturday 26 September from 1.00pm – 7.00pm. The screen shot below shows students and Harvard representatives in our chat room, which at one stage had over 100 visitors looking in.
Anne De Luca (top middle) Associate Dean, Admissions and Financial Aid, Harvard College, and Vicky Leung (top left) Chair of Events, Harvard Club of the UK, answer questions from students in the Harvard chat room at USA College Day.
Our booth also contained a Harvard Information Video which visitors could play while waiting to enter the chat room. It answered the most common questions asked by students about Harvard. If you missed the video, or would like to see it again, please click here.
The video was viewed 260 times on the day, and we also gained 121 new subscribers to this newsletter.
Applying to Harvard during COVID-19 restrictions
This information is for those in the final year of high school or sixth form college who will be submitting applications to Harvard this autumn for the graduating class of 2025 (starting in August 2021):
- Year 13 (England and Wales)
- S6 (Scotland)
- Year 14 (Northern Ireland)
Candidates will be assessed in the same way as any other year, using what is called a ‘whole person review,’ but the Admissions Office will take account of the fact that most UK students have not been able to take their normal exams this year, and that many extracurricular activities have had to be curtailed. Below, we list the constituent parts of the ‘whole person review,’ followed by the adjustments being made this year as a result of COVID-19.
The ‘whole person review’ includes:
- Academic achievement (grades, scores, teacher comments) Academic fit is most important but other qualities help differentiate among exceptional candidates
- Extracurricular involvement (activities and achievements outside academic study)
- Personal attributes (interest in your academic field of choice, initiative, leadership potential, open mindedness, enthusiasm)
- Context and background (socio-economic, geographic, ethnic, family background, advantages or disadvantages growing up, barriers overcome)
- Fit with the community, potential for contribution to the university, to the education of those around him/her and beyond
Our goal is to obtain the fullest possible picture of the applicant – both past accomplishments and future potential. Admission is less a reward for what a student has done in the past than a belief and an investment in what he or she will do in the future.
Allowances will be made this year for the following:
Exam grades. Students who have not been able to take their usual exams this summer will not be disadvantaged. Instead, the Admissions Office will look at the teacher assessments provided by your school and other information such as course grades, and academic and character references.
Standardised tests. The SAT and ACT tests are optional at Harvard this year. If you have already taken them, you may still submit your scores, but you will not be disadvantaged if you have been unable to take the tests or you decide not to submit your scores. In the same way, the SAT Subject Tests are also optional this year. Further information on Harvard’s policy on standardised testing this year can be found on their webpage Admission Application Considerations for the Class of 2025.
Extracurricular activity. We recognise that social distancing restrictions mean that most students have been unable to follow their usual activities outside academic study. You will not be disadvantaged by this – everyone is in the same boat. But do tell us about anything else you have been doing, such as starting a blog, setting up a special interest group on the web, looking after a sick relative, or helping your local community in some way.
Interviews. We will continue to interview every UK applicant, but this year interviews will take place remotely by Zoom, Skype or telephone rather than face to face. Your interviewer will contact you directly to fix a date and time after you have submitted your application.
What’s the difference between ‘Early Action’ and ‘Regular Action’?
If you are applying this year for entry to the Class of 2025 you should now be putting together the components of your application ready to submit to your chosen colleges by the Early Action or Regular Action deadline.
‘Regular Action’ refers to the normal deadline for submitting your application to American colleges (1st January at Harvard, but it does vary from college to college). You may apply to as many colleges as you like by this deadline. But if you have one particular institution that is your clear favourite, many American colleges provide an option called ‘Restrictive Early Action,’ or just ‘Early Action,’ which allows you to apply to one US college earlier than the others (by 1st November) and receive a decision by mid-December. (Note that you can still apply to UK universities if you are applying Early Action in the US). For the most competitive US colleges, there is no advantage or disadvantage in applying Early or Regular Action, but some colleges may see your early application as an indication that they are your top choice, and may feel more favourable towards your application for that reason. Check each college’s website to see if they make any statements about possible advantages in the process for submitting an early application.
Some colleges use the term ‘Early Decision’ rather than ‘Early Action’. What’s the difference?
If you apply to a college ‘Early Action’ and are offered a place, the offer is usually not binding and you may wait and see if you get further offers from your ‘Regular Action’ colleges before you decide which offer to accept. On the other hand, an offer made as a result of an ‘Early Decision’ application is usually binding, so you must accept the offer and withdraw your applications from all other universities to which you have applied. This is not a problem if you definitely want to go the ‘Early Decision’ college, but being offered admission will close off all other options so it is very important to check whether an offer will be binding or non-binding before submitting your application. There is, however, one advantage to applying to an ‘Early Decision’ college: you have a greater chance of being admitted because the Admissions Office knows you are already fully committed to attending if you are offered a place.
More information about Restrictive Early Action can be found on the First Year Applicants page of the Harvard Admissions website.
What should I be doing now if I am applying next year?
The information below is for students in the penultimate year of high school or sixth form college:
- Year 12 (England and Wales)
- S5 (Scotland)
- Year 13 (Northern Ireland)
The most essential thing to do, this year and every year, is to work hard throughout the year to get good grades and/or teacher assessments for all your academic work. This is the same regardless of whether exams in your country are going ahead next summer, or whether you will be graded by teacher assessment.
Other than that, the two essential tasks for applying to American colleges are to research the college system, and to register for next year’s standardised tests (assuming they will be back to normal by then).
1. Research the US college system. Use one of the specialist search engines to research the college system and identify a long list, and then a short list, of colleges to which you might like to apply. There are a number of search engines you can try, including Peterson’s and the College Board.
2. Register to take the standardised admissions tests required by most American colleges and book a place far enough ahead to allow you plenty of time to practise. Harvard’s ‘test optional’ policy is for one year only, so you will have to take the main SAT or ACT test next year unless the ‘test optional’ policy is extended for a further period. It is safer to assume that the tests will be compulsory at Harvard next year, because you will still be able to submit your scores even if the tests remain optional.
If you haven’t already done so, register for the tests now and book a date or dates to take them in the spring of 2021. You might want to set aside two or three hours’ practice time each week for the next few months so you are at your maximum performance by the time you sit the exams. US colleges have no preference between the SAT and the ACT, but the two tests are structured differently, so the one you decide to take will simply boil down to the style of exam you prefer. A good method of deciding is to take a free online test in both the SAT and the ACT and go with whichever one gives you the better score.
Here are some links to the free online practice material:
- SAT Reasoning Test
- SAT Subject Tests
- For the SAT, there are also free online practice tools provided by the Khan Academy.
- ACT Test
- Additional free online practice tests for the ACT are provided by Union Test Prep
If you need additional practice material, books of SAT and ACT practice tests are available from online publishers at around £20 each.
Both the SAT and the ACT have optional essays, and not all colleges require them. At Harvard, we recommend that you do take the essays, but they are not compulsory. If you want to take the ACT essay, make sure you register for ‘ACT with writing.’
In addition to the SAT or the ACT with writing, the more competitive colleges may also require you to take two SAT Subject Tests. While the Subject Tests are now optional at many colleges, including Harvard, they are still recommended, especially for international students, to show your mastery of specific subjects. There are 20 subjects to choose from, and you should normally take your two strongest subjects at school. Note that not all subjects are offered on every test date, so look up the Subject Test dates below and plan accordingly. As with the main SAT and ACT tests, the best way of getting a good score is regular practice. Click the link in the previous section for free practice questions in every subject.
SAT Test Dates 2020/21 and UK Test Centres
Remaining international SAT test dates for this academic year:
- 7 November 2020 – Subject Tests only
- 5 December 2020 – SAT and SAT Subject Tests
- 13 March 2021 – SAT only
- 8 May 2021 – SAT and SAT Subject Tests
- 5 June 2021 – Subject Tests only
Click here for a list of which SAT subjects you can take on which test dates.
It is best to register with the College Board (which administers the tests) in the autumn of your penultimate year in high school and take the main SAT test in March or May and the SAT Subject Tests in May or June. This will give you plenty of time to practise and also provide the option of re-taking them in the autumn of your final year if you do not get as good a score as you hoped (colleges will only take into account your highest score if you take it more than once).
Click here for a list of UK Test Centres for the SAT. (Enter your preferred test date under ‘Select Test Date’ and then enter either England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man in the ‘United Kingdom’ section of ‘Select a Country’).
ACT Test Dates 2020/21 and UK Test Centres
Remaining ACT test dates (non-US) for this academic year:
- 16 – 17 April 2021
- 11 – 12 June 2021
- 16 – 17 July 2021
Like the SAT, it is best to register for the ACT in the autumn of your penultimate year and to take the exam in April, June or July leaving you the option of re-taking it, if necessary, the following autumn. Although the essay section is optional, most competitive colleges require or recommend it, so you should register for ‘ACT with writing’, rather than just ‘ACT’.
Click here for a list of International Test Centres for the ACT.
To see the most current list, you must begin the registration process for the ACT by clicking on ‘MyACT’ when you reach the landing page.