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The 2023-24 Common App is now live. How have colleges adjusted their essays?

Yes, the Common App is open! For college counselors, the news so far this summer has more than we can endure. Legacy admissions, elite institutions, checked boxes and essay changes are all making headlines. (Some new prompts are featured below). What to do? If you just have a few weeks of time for fun in the sun, go for it! This college counselor is here to help.

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Legacy Admissions. Enough, Already! Not a day goes by without us hearing more about two subjects: Barbie (funny!) and legacy admissions (not fun at all). Inside Higher Ed called it "affirmative action for the rich" while mentioning Princeton, which is expanding its community college transfers, and Duke, which is offering more tuition benefits to lower- and middle-income students from the Carolinas. As for other colleges, Wesleyan was quick to announce the end of its legacy practices, arguing "that a student’s connection to a Wesleyan graduate indicates little about that applicant’s ability to succeed.” Virginia Tech ended not only legacy admissions but also its binding Early Decision. In Inside Higher Ed, a Hokie spokesperson explained, "The previous expectation in the early decision plan that students lock in their commitment to Virginia Tech well before the regular decision deadline was not a good option for all of our applicants, particularly those needing financial aid, and created unneeded pressure on students.” Virginia Tech will keep its Early Action, of course. Now that's good marketing! Not all higher ed experts are against legacy admissions. Some, like Harvard professor James Hankins, believe, "As long as the children of alumni meet the standards of admission, it’s unclear why they shouldn’t be admitted preferentially. Nor is it obvious why the loyalty and generosity of alumni shouldn’t be rewarded.” (Hankins' piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal.) Here's what we know: Legacy preferences keep money flowing into colleges. But not all legacy students are treated alike - believe me! At Brown, there was a college counselor working out of the alumni office for years, ostensibly because many children of Brunonians would not be accepted.



"Students entering Brown often find that making their home on College Hill naturally invites reflection on where they came from. Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community."



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Ivy-Plus: Is That a Size? Along with legacy admissions, elite colleges drew attention as a result of new research released by Harvard and Brown professors. Their findings as reported in the WSJ: "Top students who didn’t attend an Ivy-like school had average incomes in the 79th percentile; those who did attend earned only marginally more: they were in the 81st . . . Where an Ivy-like school really made an impact was in the odds of an exceptional, Bezos-like outcome." The reason for the Ivy-Plus size: the authors focused on the Big Eight along with Stanford, MIT, Duke and UChicago.

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Colleges Respond with Modified Prompts This college counselor loves supplemental essays! Although colleges anticipated the Supreme Court ruling and already had prompts to encourage applicants to share their hardships, some have modified their essay questions slightly. It started with Sarah Lawrence, which cited the ruling:

"In a 2023 majority decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, 'Nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.' Drawing upon examples from your life, a quality of your character, and/or a unique ability you possess, describe how you believe your goals for a college education might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court's decision." [SLC: It's affected, not impacted!]

Other colleges popular with unCommon students, including UVA, Miami and UVM, also made changes.


"The University of Miami is a values-based and purpose-driven postsecondary institution that embraces diversity and inclusivity in all its forms and strives to create a culture of belonging, where every person feels valued and has an opportunity to contribute. Please describe how your unique experiences, challenges overcome, or skills acquired would contribute to our distinctive University community."

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Who's Reading the Essay, Anyway? Remember how USC started an EA, then wound up deferring most of the expanded applicant pool? Recently, Inside Higher Ed reported on the possible use of AI to read college essays. We learn that Student Select "typically begins by looking at a university’s admissions rubric and its historical admissions data. Its technology then sorts applicants into three tiers based on their likelihood of admission." Fascinating, right? According to Les Perelman, a former MIT dean, "Having essays read by machines is going to provide “even more impetus to have students generate them by machine . . . It won’t be able to identify if it was original or just generated by ChatGPT. The whole issue of writing evaluation has really been turned on its head.”

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Rice: Things are Bigger in Texas! Do you have an aspiring Texan? The very prominent Rice University is doing good things. For those craving business careers, the university now offers an undergraduate business major for "highly qualified students who seek a well-rounded and in-depth foundation in business fundamentals.” And if Texas is too hot to handle, students will be able to avail themselves of the new Rice Global Paris Center to further the “University’s mission of contributing to the betterment of our world through a closer dialogue with the world.” Rice has new prompts, too!


"Rice is strengthened by its diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders and change agents across the spectrum of human endeavor. What perspectives shaped by your background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity inspire you to join our community of change agents at Rice?”

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UVA Makes a Splash The past several days have included exciting races at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, including performances by swimmers from the three-time National champs, the University of Virginia Cavaliers. What's more, team members and sisters Alex and Gretchen Walsh have launched their own collection of swimsuits at swimoutlet.com. Entrepreneurship continues on college campuses!



"What about your background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA?


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Enjoy August! And for application or back-to-school advice, set up a meeting.

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