More Colleges Drop ACT/SAT; Activities, Essays More Important than Ever

I recently posted on the increased importance of activities and on application essays for the class of 2021, and in the two weeks since I wrote that, most of the Ivy League has now formally dropped the test score requirements. Only Harvard and Princeton have not made a formal announcement, and as the quote below shows, they may be moving that way–with Harvard hedging, bet that Princeton will not want to stand alone as the only Ivy holding students responsible for a test they cannot or perhaps should not, for health reasons,* be taking this year. Here’s the live quote:

“As of Friday afternoon, [June 12] Harvard and Princeton universities were the lone Ivy holdouts. But even Harvard appeared to be inching toward flexibility. “If students are prevented from taking tests in any form due to COVID-19, we will still review their applications as we have in the past in other exceptional circumstances,” Harvard said in a statement. Stanford University’s dean of admission and financial aid, Richard Shaw, said his school’s approach will be similar to Harvard’s.”

Optional Testing Raises the Bar on Essays and Activities

Please see my earlier post on how this reduction in testing information will boost the importance of your activities. Just as much, this will boost the importance of your essays. Essays in part shape the presentation of your activities, but your essays also offer a look that is wider than what college activities or data can offer–you show your passions and motivations as well as your accomplishments in essays.

And with the only data being GPA for most of the Ivies this year, your written material and activities have become the only way to separate yourself from the crowd.

This is a huge change, one that is hard to overstate, in a game of margins. Faced with identical GPA’s, transcripts and range of classes that are relatively interchangeable, and a slate of winning essays, marginal differences in test scores do make a difference. Or did make a difference.

Now you need to focus even more on developing those supposedly “softer” measurements for you holistic application evaluations. You also need to ramp up ideas for summer activities now, to replace anything you might have dropped, or that may have been canceled, due to COVID. In a post earlier this summer, I offered some suggestions for community service-based activities that you could get off the ground literally in a couple of days, so please see my recent discussion on getting activities going–boosting your activities and essays for 2020-2021.

Launch a New Activity Now and Review Existing Essay Prompts

No need to panic–just start doing some constructive work, that helps others, and think about how you could write about your activities. Possibly this feels a bit phony or hypocritical to you–but is this not the point of your education both now and in college? To learn, then to apply your new skills to solve problems, helping others and the world around you? If you go out and start a new activity that helps others, you are showing what kind of person you would be in a campus community–which is a fundemental part of a holistic evaluation of a college application. This is really an exercise in “real life” flexibility, innovation and leadership. Have at it.

Also take a look at my recent posts on the major essay prompts that are up–

Starting Common Application Essays in 2020-2021

Starting your Texas application essays in 2020-2021 (and doubling up main essays to save time and work).

I will be posting on other major essay prompts as they continue to roll out between now and August. Come back soon.

For Essay Development and Editing, Contact Me

I still have some space available for new essay development and editing clients this summer. Contact me to get started.

Activities To Create Great College Application Essays

No doubt many of you find youselves unexpectedly trapped in and around your house, your plans for internships, work and personal growth put on ice by the Covid pandemic. What to do? You could sit home and play videogames, chat online and read some books–the latter activity has promise, at least, for college applications as well as that personal, intellectual growth. Or you could also come up with some new activities to create great college application essays.

(If you are not clear on why activities are important, please read my classic post on how college applications are evaluated: The Secret of College Admissions.)

And here is an idea for an activity you can quickly organize and move on, as well as scale up: harvesting food that is going unpicked.

Harvesting Excess Fruit in Suburbs and Cities–for Community Service and Great College Essay Potential

If you live in a suburb that is more than a decade old, as well as in the lower-rise areas of most cities, you will find a source of food waste that is often overlooked: fruit that goes unpicked on trees in private yards. There are also many people with gardens producing more than they can consume.

To create a great exracurricular activity for college application essays and filling in your personal profile: simply find excess fruit (and vegetables, when possible) and connect that fruit with food banks and other organizations. Your equipment as simple as a pole harvester for fruit and possibly a good-quality ladder or two (this latter element, pun intended, does introduce a risk of falling. Please take note).

This is not an original idea on my part–there are dozens of groups, some highly organized, that already exist–just a simple search can show you this: gleaning on DuckDuckGo. And you can find a short list of well-known gleaning groups here: Harvesting/Gleaning Organization Directory.

But my pitch is this, even if you live near one of these groups: start your own.

Show Leadership and Initiative by Creating Your Own Organization

Creating an organization could be as simple as a single friend or a group of friends to pick this fruit, or it could involve you getting a group organized, creating a nonprofit with a website, and expanding your organization–particularly if you are, say, a rising sophomore–time is on your side. But even if you are a rising senior, imagine the value of being able to write your college application essay on a summer spent helping neighbors who can’t pick fruit and helping those who are hungy. Call that a win-win-win.

Your tools can be as simple as making or buying a few pole harvesters and (possibly) one or two good-quality ladders of no more than six-eight feet. Add some boxes and bags, and gloves and sturdy hats might also be helpful–you will find out why the first time you pick off a thorny lemon tree.

Spiky lemon trees aside, your only real risk from this operation, provided you keep a sensible distance while harvesting and stay out of people’s houses, is from heat/ a sunburn or a fall off a ladder. Make sure you train everybody on ladder safety as well as dealing with Covid safety.

Why you should to this: self interest. You need Covid-safe activities to crate college essays. And this will get you outdoors, will allow you to “hang” (literally) with your friends, again in a safe way.

Community Service is In

And more importantly, you will be giving to your community. As an aside, while I was growing up, I watched a more communal ethose in my hometown, state and the USA in general recede into a focus on self interest. I think that may be changing. And the nice thing is, in giving you to your community you are doing something that shows leadership, initiative and a community spirit. You can scale it up as much as you like, set up a website, form a 501 nonprofit. How far you take something like this is up to you.

And before you even get a few pieces of equipment, finding trees is as simple as looking around your area, then knocking on likely doors, taking three or four steps back and cheerfully explaining, through your mask, that you are launching a neighborhood harvest of excess fruit to send to food banks (et al). Network with your local food banks, and you could be harvesting and transporting within days.

You can help your pitch by kicking some fruit back to the tree owner.

Tips and Links for Setting up a Fruit Harvesting Extracurricular Activity

Here’s a few more tips on everyting from creating a cheap and safe pole harvester to organizing a 501c3 cheaply, without hiring a lawyer:

Making a pole harvester, youtube lesson

You will find a series of related videos on making picking tools and harvesting fruit as you scroll down from that Youtube link. Like this one:

Pole harvester, with a Brit Accent

And if you want to have a telescoping pole on which to mount your harvester, just repurpse a painting pole, e.g. these examples:

Telescoping painter’s poles

And if you have or plan to buy a ladder, be sure to study ladder safety–most orchards use a tripod ladder, for ease of setup, as shown in this link:

Ladder safety, OSHA