Harvard Outreach Newsletter

95th Issue, July 2021

In this issue:

Online application forms for US colleges go live shortly

Most of the information in this month’s newsletter is directed at students who are at the end of, or have just left, the following year groups: 

Year 12  (England and Wales) 
S5  (Scotland) 
Year 13  (Northern Ireland)

If you intend 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 you will be very busy with your UCAS application, so the more of your American application materials you can compile beforehand, the better.  

There are currently two main application platforms – the Common Application Form and the Coalition for College.  Harvard and many other colleges accept both application types – but some will only accept one or the other, or 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. 

Here are further details of the two main application methods, together with links to the relevant web pages. 

Although not all US colleges accept the Common App, it is nevertheless used by over 900 institutions, including all the top research universities, so most applicants are likely to use this method.  The Common App goes live each year on 1st August, although students may register and complete the general application components before this date.  Click here to create an account.

For students, the Common App website contains an Application Guide for First-Time Students (i.e. students currently in secondary school who will be applying for full-time undergraduate study for the first time).  It starts with a video entitled What is Common App? and goes on to provide information about the following topics, each with an explanatory video:

  1. Gather materials – the information you’ll need to complete your applications.
  2. Create an account – get started at any time.
  3. Add colleges – start building your My Colleges list.
  4. Engage supporters – collaborate with teachers, parents and advisors.
  5. Understanding requirements – keep track of each college’s unique application requirements.
  6. Plan essays – organise and plan for the various writing prompts.
  7. Submit your application – review and submit your application.

For teachers and university advisors there is a Common App Ready toolkit with tips and best practices designed to help your students complete their applications successfully and on time.  Each section listed below has additional resources in the form of PDF downloads that will enable you to help your students with specific topics.

  • Getting started – getting to know the Common App and how the application works.
  • Preparing your application* – resources on getting organised and starting your application on the right track.
  • Telling your story – use the different features of the application to highlight what makes you unique.
  • Working with recommenders and advisors – learning how to find and communicate with your support network.
  • Paying for college – learn about application fees, fee waivers, and how to find scholarships.  (Also see the sections on financial aid in the February 2021 edition of this newsletter).

* Note that the PDF document ‘High School Details Information Sheet’ that you can download from the ‘Preparing your application’ section is not suitable for a UK secondary school.  If you need a School Profile template, we recommend that you download the one available on the US/UK Fulbright Commission website.

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

The same web page also includes templates for your School Transcript – the official record of a student’s secondary school grades that you must send to all the colleges to which your student has applied.  Separate templates are available for the different exam systems used in different part of the UK:

  • 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.

For recommenders/referees (who might be Head Teachers, Heads of Sixth Form, teachers or university advisors) the Common App website contains a Recommender Guide for those who need to provide recommendations or references within the Common App system.  The Guide includes:

  • Get started – create an account to begin completing recommender forms in the Common App.
  • Learn about the system – take a tour and learn more about how the system works.
  • Complete forms – learn what information you’ll be asked to provide about your students.
  • Recommendation letters – get tips and best practices on how to do it right.
  • Submit forms – learn how you can submit forms and how they get to colleges.

Approximately two-thirds of Common Application member colleges will also want students to complete their own supplements, which all require short pieces of writing in addition to the personal essay in the main Common App.  The supplements will be unique for each individual college 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.

Now five years old, the relative newcomer to college application platforms is the Coalition for College.  It currently has over 150 colleges signed up, including five Ivy League schools (Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn and Yale), 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 (England & Wales), S3 (Scotland)or Year 11 (N. Ireland) – may collect and store examples of their work to gradually build up their US college application portfolio for submission in their final year of secondary school.  The Locker provides unlimited digital storage for resources and materials relevant to the student’s application, such as essays, artwork, video diaries, 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.

Students may still use the Locker to store their work even if they will be applying via the Common App.  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 its operation.

Useful information for students can be found on these Coalition web pages:

About MyCoalition – create your MyCoalition account

MyCoalition Counselor – helpful videos about different aspects of applying to college

Essay Prompts – essay writing advice and Coalition application essay prompts

Making the most of summer 2022

If you are at the end of Year 11 or 12 (England and Wales), S4 or S5 (Scotland), or Year 12 or 13 (N. Ireland), you can use the summer holidays to enhance your extracurricular profile in a way that will benefit your university applications both in the UK and the US.  Given that nearly all students applying to top US 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.  

In a normal year, you could 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 interest, again that you have set up through your own initiative
  • a masterclass at a local university in a subject that interests you

During the Covid pandemic, opportunities for many of these activities have inevitably been curtailed – but there are still things you can do to develop your interests this summer.  If you 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 reflection might well turn into the inspiration for your application essay (which we will be considering in more detail in next month’s newsletter).

For more ideas, take a look at this 10-minute video on the Coalition website entitled: Making Plans for Summer 2021.  

Although directed at an American audience, it does contain some useful ideas relevant to UK students that will help you have a more interesting and enjoyable summer break. 

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