Newsletter Special Issue for Teachers and University Advisers, November 2015
This special edition of the newsletter is aimed at teachers and university advisers who are unfamiliar with the US college application system and therefore need information about what to expect and guidance about how to fill out the Common Application School Forms.
The special edition is sent to all newsletter subscribers, including students, because if you are a student in a school where no one has ever applied to an American university before, your teachers will probably not be aware of what the school needs to provide in terms of school reports, student transcripts and references. So if you intend to apply to university in the States either this year or next year, please forward this email to your Head of Sixth Form or UCAS Adviser.
Teachers and advisers – what you need to know
The deadline for students applying ‘Early Action’ to Harvard (and many other US Colleges) is 1st November, and the deadline for ‘Regular Action’ is usually 1st January, so if any of your students are applying to the US this year you will shortly start to receive requests from the college(s) to which they have applied for teacher references and other information.
If your students do not tell you they are applying to study in the USA, then the request for teacher references will arrive out of the blue because students submit their applications directly to their chosen colleges rather than via their schools as in the UCAS system. Only when a student adds a teacher’s email address to the application form will the teacher receive an email requesting supporting information. So students should always inform teachers in advance if they will be nominating them as referees to support their applications. Students are advised to waive their right to access all recommendations and supporting documents as this will maintain the credibility of the references in the eyes of the universities to which they apply.
Common Application Form
The Common Application Form (or ‘Common App.’) is used by Harvard and around 600 other US colleges, so is the form most students and schools will need to complete. The US-UK Fulbright Commission has produced an excellent step-by-step guide for UK teachers and advisers about how to complete the school section of the form.
Within the guidance, teachers/advisers should particularly note the following:
- The student can nominate two teachers and one ‘guidance counsellor’ on the Common App.
- The nearest UK equivalent to a ‘guidance counsellor’ is the Head of Sixth Form, University Adviser or Careers Adviser. This person is responsible for producing the school profile, school report, transcript, and some other reports required by US colleges.
- The two teachers should be two of the student’s A-Level or IB teachers and are responsible for producing the teacher references.
- US college admissions tutors are looking for well rounded individuals and hence are just as interested in extracurricular achievements and personal attributes as they are in exam grades: teacher references should reflect this.
- It is acceptable to leave the answers to some questions blank if they do not apply to UK schools, for example Class Rank or Grade Point Average.
The Harvard Admissions Office has provided some sample teacher recommendations to enable you to get an idea of the structure and content of a good teacher report.
We have also produced a sample School Transcript and School Profile to help schools who are compiling them for the first time.
Universal College Application
As an alternative to the Common App., some colleges accept the Universal College Application (UCA). The main drawback of the UCA is that it is only accepted by around 50 colleges, as opposed to the 600 or so that accept the Common App. Some colleges (including Harvard) accept both. The rule of thumb is that if all the colleges to which a student is applying accept the UCA, it is worth considering as an alternative; if not, it is probably better to stick with the Common App. For a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of both application forms, see this blog provided by PrepScholar.
While the range of documents that US colleges require from schools can seem daunting at first, the burden is somewhat reduced in subsequent years as the process becomes more familiar and can run in parallel with the UCAS application cycle. As more and more British students head across the Atlantic for higher education, it is becoming ever more important that schools know the requirements of US colleges and provide their students with the greatest chance of success.