6 Tips for Submitting Samples of Your Academic Work

Also known as a "graded work requirement"
June 24, 2020

More and more colleges are asking applicants to submit samples of their academic work as part of their applications.

And while we don’t know all the application requirements yet for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, we suspect that more colleges will add this requirement to compensate for the fact that they won’t have test scores.  


To quote Princeton, 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, your graded work in high school will help them predict your ability to succeed in college.

For that reason, before you delete or lose access to your work from junior year, take some time now to get one or two samples ready to submit. It will give you one less thing to stress about in the fall.

Different colleges will have different rules around what graded work to submit and how to submit it, but here are six tips that hold true for pretty much all of the colleges. If you pick samples that meet these criteria, you’ll be in good shape.

  • 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, which means: 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. Avoid essays that merely summarize research or report other people’s ideas.

  • Work that was “graded,” meaning evaluated by your teacher. The grade 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 already know you should pick work for which you received a high grade.)

  • Work that is between 4-8 pages in length. You can submit something shorter if the college asks for that, as Princeton does. Anything beyond 10 pages in length is probably too long, but you can check with the admissions office 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 rubric, that must also be in English.

  • Just for Homeschool Students: Work that was graded and commented upon by whoever was your teacher in your course – including your parent.

If you have one or two samples that meet these six criteria, then save them electronically and you are good to go.

If you have reviewed your work and find that 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).

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.

Here are some troubleshooting tips for two common problems:

  • If there is no grade written on the paper: ask your teacher to write a note that attests to the grade you received. You will simply include that note with your submission.
  • If your school uses Google Docs and the grades/comments appear on the work as Google comments: convert it to a Word document with Mark Up, which will show your teacher’s comments, and then save it as a PDF. Alternatively, 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.

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