By Rick Clark
Earlier this week, The Common Application sent out an email indicating 166,948 students have created an account to start the process of applying to college this year.
If you are a senior working on your application, you will find the first few sections go pretty fast, and you quickly arrive at the Activities section. On the surface, this is relatively self-explanatory and the directions provided are clear. In other words, completing it should not be hard or confusing.
However, it is always helpful to get some perspective “from the other side.” I believe that’s particularly true during Covid when many colleges will not be using test scores to make admission decisions and some of the activities you usually participate in have been canceled or modified over the last six months.
What method are they using to evaluate?
Just like individual high school grading scales, the rubrics colleges use to evaluate this section are not uniform. So, if you are applying to five or seven schools, your application will likely be evaluated on a variety of scales. Same application, same activities, the same applicant – different systems. While one college may use a scale of 1-5, another could be out of 10 or 100. Alphabetic evaluations, checkmarks, +/-, or perhaps even emojis and .gifs could be used. Some schools fold their evaluation of this section into an overall admission decision recommendation without even assigning points or a score.
Who is reading?
People– not robots or algorithms. I’m always amazed that students believe we’re just feeding their applications into some kind of a machine that calculates the number of words you’ve used or hours you’ve reported in this section. Nope. These are actual living humans with families and dogs. They have been living through this quarantine just like you. They understand that life looks really weird right now. They get that your drama production was canceled and the internship you had lined up fell through.
The way colleges will read your activities is not going to change this year. They always make assumptions and inferences-and those always (and I use that word intentionally) lean toward providing you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that will be particularly true this year because my prediction is colleges, in general, will see applications go down and admit rates go up. Translation: They want and need students who are going to contribute to their campus.
…So What are they looking for?
While the training of staff, the number of committee members, and the flow of an application between admission officers will vary from one college to the next, the fundamental questions they are asking as they review your activity section are the same:
Questions? Let’s chat!
Founder, Weil College Advising, LLC
Application Tips for Activities and Leadership