THE BLOG
05/25/2016 12:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2016

College App News You Can Use: Essays, Applications, SATs

This spring brings an abundance of big news into the relatively staid world of college applications and admissions for the upcoming season - for those applying to be part of the class of 2021. Students and parents will need to navigate quite a few new organizations, essays, and even tests.

The New SAT. The new version of the SAT is somewhat old news, but it's here to stay. In the competition between the SAT and the ACT, the ACT is now the more popular choice for college applicants. Some say that in order to better compete with the ACT, the SAT modified its test to bring it more into line with the ACT. Many rising seniors have already taken the new test, and many more are signed up. One voice: A prominent tutor, Anthony-James Green, recommended that students not take the new SAT this year, and wait instead until there have been more responses to it.

My test prep partner, Arborbridge, has another perspective on it for those who've already taken in and might want to continue with it, or those who are more interested in it because of the new content. Take a look at their perspective here.

No tests required. While many colleges and universities require SAT subject tests, about 850 institutions do not require either the standard SAT or ACT, as they have found that high school grades and records are as good a predictor of success in college as these tests. You can see a list of these institutions here, provided by FairTest. They include Bennington College, Brandeis University and Clark University.

Common App vs Coalition vs Universal.

The Common Application Organization, founded 40 years ago, is the granddaddy of application platforms, with more than 600 college and university members to date. This past year, they had one million applicants who submitted 3.5 million applications from around the world.

The Common App application consists of basic information (name, school, family), a list of activities, a list of honors, and the infamous "essay" - known at the "Common App essay," which is often the centerpiece of a student's essays, as many colleges also require additional personal statements or "supplementary essays." The Common App essay prompts (choose one of five) can change from year to year, but they remain the same this coming year as they were last year. (For more on that, check out my recent Huffington Post.) This coming year's application goes on-line Aug. 1, but you can sign up now.

This coming season brings a new player into the mix - the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which presumably intends to compete with the Common App for customers, though it will no doubt take time for applicants to become fully acquainted with this new program.

The Coalition currently has about 90 member colleges and universities, half of which will be using this new platform this coming year, while the other half have postponed until next year. I first heard about this idea more than a year ago, interviewing the admissions director of an Ivy. He spoke about his interest in having a program that engages students early - starting in 9th grade - and gives them a "locker" into which they can put artwork, videos, music, articles they've written, anything that they want to save for possible submission with their college applications. The organization's mission, it seems, is to broaden access to college for under-served students and get students involved earlier in the process.

The Coalition has its own centerpiece essay - which does not have a firm upper limit but they recommend no more than 550 words, compared to the Common App's 650 words, and these are this year's prompts. Please note the "topic of your choice" for the last:

-- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
-- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
-- Has there been a time when you've had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
-- What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
-- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

For more on this essay, please check the Coalition's essay webpage.

Some institutions will only allow students to apply through the Coalition while others will continue to accept applications through the Common App and, in some cases, the Universal Application, which currently has 44 members.

Bottom line: As with the new SAT, students might want to give the Coalition a year to get off the ground, since half its members are also waiting a year, before signing up. It's definitely worth a visit to go to the site, poke around, see whether you want to open an account, and go through your creative work and maybe even put a few items in your locker!

California News. After many years with the same two essay prompts, University of California - with its nine separate institutions - has introduced a whole new slew of essays. Choose four of eight short takes - up to 350 words. Take a look here for a preview.

It's going to be a busy year.

Elizabeth Benedict is the founder and owner of Don't Sweat the Essay. She is a bestselling author, editor, and university writing professor.

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