Asking applicants to submit samples of their academic work as part of their application has been a growing trend over the last few years.
And, while all the application requirements for the 2021-22 admissions cycle are not yet fully known, we suspect that more colleges may add this requirement to compensate for having no test scores.
Why? Because to quote Princeton (admission.princeton.edu/updated-application-requirements), which has a graded work requirement:
"The graded written paper will help the admission office assess the student’s written expression in an academic setting. This will further the holistic understanding of the student’s application and help admission officers evaluate the student’s potential contributions to and ability to thrive in the University’s rigorous academic environment."
In other words, they think your graded work in high school will help them predict your ability to succeed in college.
For that reason, before you delete, trash, or otherwise lose access to your work from junior year, take some time to get one or two samples ready to submit later when you apply. It will give you one less thing to stress about in the fall.
Details about what graded work to submit and how to submit it will vary from college to college, but here are 6 tips that hold true for pretty much all of the colleges that will ask for one.
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If you pick samples that meet these criteria, you’ll be in good shape when the time comes:
- Work that you did in junior year for an English, literature, history, economics, or other humanities or social studies class. You might have work from another subject that would qualify, but most colleges prefer work from these subjects, and some even require it to come from these subjects. Also, it needs to come from a class that appears on your transcript, so the work should not come from a program outside of school (even if it was a summer program at the college where you are applying).
- Work that is an analytical and expository essay, not a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample, or in-class essay. It should represent your best thinking skills, make a persuasive and well-supported argument, and showcase excellent grammar. Steer clear of essays that merely summarize research or report other people’s ideas.
- Work that was “graded,” meaning evaluated by your teacher, whether there was a letter grade or not. The evaluation you received, along with any comments by your teacher, should be included. If there was a grading rubric for the work, you want to include that as well. (We’re guessing that you know you should pick work for which you received a high grade or strong evaluation.)
- Work that is between 4-8 pages in length. Anything beyond 10 pages in length is probably too long, but you can check with the admissions office when the new admissions cycle opens about using an excerpt or submitting an extra-long sample if it is truly your best work.
- Just for International Students: Work that was submitted in English. The graded written paper and teacher comments should not be translated from another language into English, they must be written in English. If you are also submitting a grading rubric, that must also be in English.
- Just for Homeschool Students: Work that was graded and commented upon by the person who was your teacher in your course – that might be your parent.
If you have one or two samples that meet these criteria, then save them electronically and you are good to go.
If you have reviewed your work and you don’t have anything appropriate, then you will need to submit work you produce in the fall of your senior year. Start next year with that as a major to-do and make sure that you will have something worthy of submission by the early deadline (November 1) so that you leave those early deadlines open as options.
Of course, if you have samples from junior year ready, but you do something in the fall of your senior year that is BETTER, then you can always choose to submit that instead.
Finally, here are some troubleshooting tips for common problems:
- If there is no grade written on the paper, you may ask your teacher to write a note that attests to the grade you received. You will simply include that teacher’s note with your submission.
- If your school uses Google Docs and the grades/comments appear on the work as Google comments, then convert the doc to a Word document with the markup feature, which will show your teacher’s comments, and then save it as a PDF with the comments showing. Alternatively, you can submit a screenshot of your graded written paper as long as the comments and grade are included.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.