In this issue:
- Online application forms for US colleges go live on 1st August
- Two ways of applying: Common App and Coalition for College
- Tips and resources for students, teachers and recommenders
- Making the most of summer 2021
Online application forms to US colleges went live on 1st August, so if you are at the end of Year 12 (England & Wales), S5 (Scotland), or Year 13 (N. Ireland) and intend to apply to US colleges for entry in 2022, you should now register at one of the application websites and put together as much of your application material as possible over the summer. If you intend to take a gap year, it is easier to apply this year, at the same time as your peers, and then defer entry for one year if you are offered a place.
Last month we outlined the two main application methods, and here is a recap:
The Common App is used by nearly 900 institutions, including some outside the US, so most applicants are likely to use this method. Click here to create an account.
To become more familiar with the different parts of the Common App, go to the Khan Academy Common Application Walkthrough. This provides informative videos explaining how to complete each of the seven sections, and where to find help if you get stuck.
- Part 1: Setup and college selection
- Part 2: Profile
- Part 3: Family
- Part 4: Education
- Part 5: Testing
- Part 6: Activities
- Part 7: College-specific supplements
The Coalition for College was launched five 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. Click here to create your account.
The Coalition Help Center contains over 120 articles for students on how to make the most of the Coalition tools, storage facilities and collaboration space, as well as these seven video tutorials for completing the application itself:
- College Information Page
- Completing the High School Information Page
- My Story
- Using the Colleges Page
- Sending SAT Scores via MyCoalition
- Your Coalition Essay
- Entering Your High School Coursework
There is also an information section for international students who may not be familiar with some of the terminology used on the application form:
- High school not found
- What types of recommendations and transcripts do I need?
- What is block scheduling?
- Entering additional tests not listed
- What is a GPA?
Differences between US and UK university application systems
Both of the main US application methods differ from the UK’s UCAS system in the following ways:
- you send your US application directly to the American colleges to which you are applying, whereas you have to forward your completed UCAS form to your school before it is submitted
- in the US system you apply to the college as a whole, not to a specific department, so your application will be assessed by the undergraduate admissions office, not by departmental tutors
- you can apply to a maximum of five UK universities through UCAS, but there is no limit to the number of US colleges to which you can apply, and you may apply to both the US and UK systems at the same time
- if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you can apply to one or the other, but not both, whereas in the US you can apply to as many top colleges as you wish. (However, if you are applying in the Early Action round, check the college website to see if it has any rules about how many/which colleges a student can apply. For an explanation of the meaning of Early Action, see the October 2020 newsletter).
- about 75% of the colleges that use the two US application methods also require you to fill out a supplementary form, whereas British universities do not usually require additional material
- offers of admission to US colleges are not conditional on attaining specific grades or scores in your final A-Level, Scottish Higher or IB exams – but be warned! there is still an expectation that you will achieve grades roughly in line with those predicted, or your offer of admission may be withdrawn.
The personal essay
Most students find that the personal essay (equivalent to the UCAS Personal Statement) is the most challenging and time consuming part of the US college application process.
The essay topics that are being used this year by both application platforms are given below. You will notice that all the topics prompt you to talk about yourself. This is a fundamental difference with the UCAS Personal Statement, which asks you to explain why you are well prepared to follow a particular course of study. But when you apply to a US college, it is not to study a specific subject, and for the first 18 months you will have the opportunity to explore many different topics before deciding on your ‘major’ (sometimes known as a ‘concentration’, or main area of study). So the purpose of the personal essay is to enable Admissions Officers to find out what you are like as a person: your ambitions, interests, opinions, achievements and challenges.
The suitability of the various essay topics to your particular story will be one of the factors that will help you decide which of the application platforms to use. You should try to identify a prompt that will enable you to describe your unique qualities as an individual – something that will set you apart from other candidates. Then plan the structure of the essay and write several drafts. There is a plethora of online material to help you – simply type ‘US college admission essays’ into your search engine.
In addition to the main essay topic, most colleges have supplements in which they require further short essays or memos. Check out what is required by all the colleges on your shortlist before you start writing, as different colleges sometimes ask similar supplementary questions, enabling you to adapt the same answers.
Common App personal essay
The Common App essay titles have not changed for several years, but the 2021/22 titles have one new prompt. Topic 4, which used to ask about a problem you’d like to solve, now asks you to reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful.
The maximum word limit is unchanged at 650 words.
2021-22 Common App essay prompts
- 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.
- 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
Crimson Education website contains this useful guide on the 2021-22 Common App essay prompts, including tips on how to pick the prompt that is right for you.
Coalition for College personal essay
The Coalition essay prompts for 2021-22 are:
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
- What is the hardest part of being a student now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
College Essay Advisors website has produced this useful guide to the 2021-22 Coalition application essay prompts.
The annual USA College Day run by the US-UK Fulbright Commission will be held as a virtual event again this year. Registration will open in late August – sign up here to be notified as soon as registration opens.
The screen shot below shows students and Harvard representatives in our chat room last year, 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) Co-Chair of Events and Member of Schools & Scholarships Committee, Harvard Club of the UK, answer questions from students in the Harvard chat room at USA College Day on 26 September 2020.