common app Interviews

Admission Expert Shares How to Save (big) Money on College by Retooling Your College List

What trends related to college admissions do you foresee post-pandemic?

The biggie among post-pandemic admission trends will be a spike in permanently test-optional colleges. Many schools that stopped requiring SAT’s and ACT’s this year will continue these suspensions into next year or for a 2-to-3-year trial period beyond. Some colleges will make the SAT/ACT changes permanent, and Subject Tests won’t exist at all. Even at colleges that do return to requiring test scores post-pandemic, there may be a shift away from the importance of these numbers, and admission officials will have gained experience in evaluating seemingly similar candidates without relying on tests to serve as tie-breakers.

Do you think colleges will rethink their merit aid award strategies?

Well, while it’s too early to say for sure, it’s certainly conceivable that the largest merit awards, which have—in the past—almost always gone to applicants with test scores above an institution’s norm, may soon be accessible to high school students who apply without any test scores at all. So this should put some seniors in the running for merit money who wouldn’t have been in contention before COVID, back when test results were often a key factor in merit-aid decisions. Of course, it should also mean that students with high test scores will face more competition when seeking merit grants.

Certainly we can steel ourselves for confusion as the importance of test results in merit-money allocation moves onto unfamiliar turf. While it’s long been difficult to predict which students will receive merit aid—especially the most lucrative scholarships—we should anticipate even greater ambiguity in the near future. Colleges will need to create policies about the role of testing in merit-grant decisions and then publicize these policies. (And I’m not holding my breath that this will be done efficiently!)  School and independent counselors won’t be able to draw heavily on past experiences as they direct families toward merit-aid colleges. So we may see more students applying to more colleges (a trend that, unfortunately, has already plagued us for over a decade) due to this new, greater uncertainty about merit-money allocation in an era with fewer test scores. And bigger applicant pools will mean even greater competition for acceptance and for merit money and thus to outcomes that will be even more difficult than ever to anticipate.

What about college affordability in general?

Hopefully, the Coronavirus might make college more affordable by spawning a retooling of college lists rather than merely a lengthening of them.  Granted, I don’t see a huge decline in prestige-mongering (meaning that the Ivies and their ilk will still continue to be a Holy Grail for certain students and parents), and these sought-after places do offer great aid packages to a lot of their accepted students. Yet many middle-class families inevitably land in the middle … too “rich’ to qualify for the aid that they feel they need but too “poor” to pay full freight without worry—and debt.

So what I mean by “retooling the college lists” is that some families who have struggled financially during the pandemic will broaden their target-college horizons and be more receptive than they might have been pre-COVID to finding colleges that a student can attend without relying on loans or digging deep into family savings. And if top students (and other high-school hot-shots) set their sights on public universities or on the more selective merit-aid institutions (which would exclude the Ivies and other hyper-competitive places like Stanford, MIT, Amherst, Williams, etc.) in order to keep costs in check, this, in turn, will send a message to younger students that suggests, “Why not aim for Emory or Tulane or Michigan or Maryland rather than paying full freight at Bowdoin or Middlebury? Look at all of the cool kids from last spring’s senior class who did that!”  

Sally Rubenstone is the Co-Director of College Karma and the long-time author of College Confidential’s Ask the Dean column. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student’s Guide to Changing Colleges; and The International Student’s Guide to Going to College in America. Sally was also a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years. She has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college-admissions maze. She was kind enough to talk to us while on a road trip with her husband.

Part 2 of Sally’s interview is coming soon.

affordability common app

All Colleges Without Application Fees

If you want to add a few colleges to your Common App list before the Regular Decision deadline (but don’t want to spend any more money), choose one from the list below. This is the most comprehensive list of colleges that don’t have application fees.

Liberal Arts Colleges with no application fee

Agnes Scott CollegeDecatur, GA70%
Albion CollegeAlbion, MI68%
Albright CollegeReading, PA62%
Allegheny CollegeMeadville, PA64%
Aquinas CollegeGrand Rapids, MI69%
Augustana CollegeRock Island, IL72%
Austin CollegeSherman, TX55%
Ave Maria UniversityAve Maria, FL83%
Beloit CollegeBeloit, WI56%
Berea CollegeBerea, KY38%
Bethany Lutheran CollegeMankato, MN78%
Bryn Mawr CollegeBryn Mawr, PA34%
Carleton CollegeNorthfield, MN20%
Centenary CollegeShreveport, LA60%
Central CollegePella, IA70%
Centre CollegeDanville, KY73%
Coe CollegeCedar Rapids, IA67%
Colby CollegeWaterville, ME13%
Colgate UniversityHamilton, NY25%
College of IdahoCaldwell, ID49%
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s UniversitySaint Joseph, MN83%
College of WoosterWooster, OH54%
Concordia College—MoorheadMoorhead, MN61%
Cornell CollegeMount Vernon, IA61%
Denison UniversityGranville, OH34%
DePauw UniversityGreencastle, IN63%
Doane College—CreteCrete, NE68%
Earlham CollegeRichmond, IN65%
Elizabethtown CollegeElizabethtown, PA76%
Emmanuel CollegeBoston, MA77%
Emory and Henry CollegeEmory, VA69%
Franklin CollegeFranklin, IN75%
Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA24%
Guilford CollegeGreensboro, NC64%
Gustavus Adolphus CollegeSaint Peter, MN66%
Hampden-Sydney CollegeHampden-Sydney, VA59%
Hanover CollegeHanover, IN79%
Hartwick CollegeOneonta, NY80%
Hendrix CollegeConway, AR72%
Hillsdale CollegeHillsdale, MI36%
Hobart & William Smith CollegesGeneva, NY57%
Hollins UniversityRoanoke, VA64%
Illinois CollegeJacksonville, IL76%
Illinois Wesleyan UniversityBloomington, IL59%
Juniata CollegeHuntingdon, PA70%
Kalamazoo CollegeKalamazoo, MI73%
Kenyon CollegeGambier, OH36%
Lake Forest CollegeLake Forest, IL58%
Lawrence UniversityAppleton, WI62%
Lewis & Clark CollegePortland, OR74%
Linfield College-McMinnville CampusMcMinnville, OR81%
Luther CollegeDecorah, IA63%
Lycoming CollegeWilliamsport, PA66%
Marywood UniversityScranton, PA75%
Mercyhurst UniversityErie, PA87%
Millsaps CollegeJackson, MS59%
Monmouth CollegeMonmouth, IL69%
Moravian CollegeBethlehem, PA73%
Mount Holyoke CollegeSouth Hadley, MA51%
Oberlin CollegeOberlin, OH36%
Oglethorpe UniversityAtlanta, GA62%
Ohio Wesleyan UniversityDelaware, OH69%
Presbyterian CollegeClinton, SC69%
Randolph CollegeLynchburg, VA87%
Randolph-Macon CollegeAshland, VA67%
Reed CollegePortland, OR36%
Rhodes CollegeMemphis, TN51%
Rhodes CollegeMemphis, TN45%
Roanoke CollegeSalem, VA72%
Rust CollegeHolly Springs, MS53%
Saint John’s CollegeAnnapolis, MD58%
Saint John’s CollegeSanta Fe, NM67%
Saint John’s UniversityCollegeville, MN80%
Saint Mary’s CollegeNotre Dame, IN82%
Salem CollegeWinston-Salem, NC41%
Sewanee—The University of the SouthSewanee, TN65%
Simpson CollegeIndianola, IA84%
Smith CollegeNorthampton, MA31%
Southwestern UniversityGeorgetown, TX45%
Spring Hill CollegeMobile, AL66%
St. Norbert CollegeDe Pere, WI78%
Susquehanna UniversitySelinsgrove, PA72%
Sweet Briar CollegeSweet Briar, VA76%
Thomas Aquinas CollegeSanta Paula, CA78%
Transylvania UniversityLexington, KY89%
United States Military AcademyWest Point, NY10%
University of PikevillePikeville, KY100%
Ursinus CollegeCollegeville, PA71%
US Air Force AcademyUSAF Academy, CO11%
US Naval AcademyAnnapolis, MD9%
Warren Wilson CollegeAsheville, NC83%
Wartburg CollegeWaverly, IA76%
Washington and Jefferson CollegeWashington, PA48%
Wellesley CollegeWellesley, MA20%
Wesleyan CollegeMacon, GA47%
Westminster CollegeFulton, MO94%
Westminster CollegeNew Wilmington, PA66%
Williams Baptist CollegeWalnut Ridge, AR56%
Wittenberg UniversitySpringfield, OH90%

All colleges with no application fee

Adrian College
Agnes Scott College
Alaska Pacific University
Albion College
Albright College
Alcorn State University
Alderson Broaddus University
Alice Lloyd College
Allegheny College
Alma College
Alverno College
Ancilla College
Anderson University
Aquinas College
Arcadia University
Arkansas Tech University
Asbury University
Ashland University
Auburn University—Montgomery
Augsburg College
Augustana College
Augustana College
Aurora University
Austin College
Ave Maria University
Averett University
Avila University
Baker University
Baldwin Wallace University
Barton College
Bay Path University
Baylor University
Becker College
Belmont Abbey College
Beloit College
Berea College
Berry College
Bethany College
Bethany College
Bethany Lutheran College
Bethel University
Bluefield State College
Bradley University
Brandman University
Bridgewater College
Bryn Mawr College
Buena Vista University
Butler University
Calumet College of Saint Joseph
Calvin College
Canisius College
Capitol Technology University
Cardinal Stritch University
Carleton College
Carlow University
Carroll College
Carroll University
Catawba College
Cazenovia College
Cedar Crest College
Centenary College
Central College
Central Pennsylvania College
Centre College
Chadron State College
Champlain College
Chatham University
Clarkson University
Coe College
Coker College
Colby College
Colby-Sawyer College
Colgate University
College of Idaho
College of Mount Saint Vincent
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University
College of Saint Elizabeth
College of Saint Rose
College of Saint Scholastica
College of Southern Idaho
College of the Ozarks
College of Wooster
Colorado Mountain College
Columbia College
Concord University
Concordia College—Moorhead
Concordia University—Nebraska
Converse College
Cornell College
Creighton University
Culver-Stockton College
D’Youville College
Daemen College
Davis and Elkins College
Deep Springs College
Defiance College
Delaware Valley College
Denison University
DePauw University
Doane College—Crete
Dominican University of California
Drake University
Drury University
Duquesne University
Earlham College
Eastern Nazarene College
Eastern New Mexico University
Elizabethtown College
Elmhurst College
Emmanuel College
Emory and Henry College
Eureka College
Ferris State University
Finlandia University
Fisher College
Florida Gateway College
Florida Institute of Technology
Fontbonne University
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Franklin College
Freed-Hardeman University
Gannon University
Grace College and Seminary
Graceland University
Grand View University
Granite State College
Greenville College
Grinnell College
Guilford College
Gustavus Adolphus College
Gwynedd Mercy University
Hamline University
Hampden-Sydney College
Hanover College
Hardin-Simmons University
Hartwick College
Hastings College
Henderson State University
Hendrix College
Hillsdale College
Hiram College
Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Hollins University
Holy Cross College
Holy Names University
Hood College
Houston Baptist University
Howard Payne University
Huntingdon College
Illinois College
Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Wesleyan University
Immaculata University
Indian River State College
Indiana Wesleyan University
Iowa Wesleyan College
Jackson State University
John Carroll University
Johnson & Wales University—Denver
Johnson & Wales University—North Miami
Juniata College
Kalamazoo College
Kenyon College
Kettering University
Keuka College
King’s College
La Roche College
La Salle University
La Sierra University
Lake Erie College
Lake Forest College
Lakeland College
Lane College
Lasell College
Lawrence University
Le Moyne College
Lebanon Valley College
Lesley University
LeTourneau University
Lewis & Clark College
Liberty University
Limestone College
Lincoln University
Lindsey Wilson College
Linfield College-McMinnville Campus
Loras College
Loyola University Chicago
Loyola University New Orleans
Luther College
Lycoming College
Lynchburg College
Madonna University
Manchester University
Marquette University
Martin Methodist College
Maryville College
Maryville University of Saint Louis
Marywood University
McKendree University
Medaille College
Mercy College
Mercyhurst University
Merrimack College
Metropolitan State University
Michigan Technological University
MidAmerica Nazarene University
Midland University
Miles College
Millikin University
Millsaps College
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Mississippi University for Women
Mississippi Valley State University
Mitchell College
Monmouth College
Moravian College
Morningside College
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Mary University
Mount Mercy University
Mount Saint Mary College
Nazareth College
Nebraska Wesleyan University
Neumann University
New England College
Niagara University
Nichols College
Northland College
Northwest Christian University
Northwest Missouri State University
Northwestern College
Notre Dame College
Notre Dame de Namur University
Oakland University
Oberlin College
Oglethorpe University
Ohio Northern University
Ohio Wesleyan University
Oklahoma Baptist University
Olivet College
Pacific Lutheran University
Pacific Union College
Pacific University
Piedmont College
Point Park University
Polk State College
Presbyterian College
Queens University of Charlotte
Randolph College
Randolph-Macon College
Reed College
Regis University
Rhodes College
Rhodes College
Roanoke College
Robert Morris University
Roberts Wesleyan College
Rockford University
Rockhurst University
Rosemont College
Rust College
Saint Ambrose University
Saint Augustine College
Saint Bonaventure University
Saint Edward’s University
Saint Francis University
Saint John’s College
Saint John’s College
Saint John’s University
Saint John’s University
Saint Joseph’s College
Saint Leo University
Saint Louis University
Saint Martin’s University
Saint Mary’s College
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
Saint Peter’s University
Salem College
Santa Fe College
Savannah State University
Sewanee—The University of the South
Shawnee State University
Siena Heights University
Sierra Nevada College
Simmons College
Simpson College
Smith College
Southern Arkansas University
Southwestern Adventist University
Southwestern University
Spring Hill College
St. Catherine University
St. Mary’s University
St. Norbert College
Stephens College
Sterling College
Stevenson University
Susquehanna University
Sweet Briar College
Texas Wesleyan University
The Sage Colleges
Thomas Aquinas College
Thomas More College
Touro College
Transylvania University
Trine University
Trinity University
Truman State University
Tulane University
Tusculum College
Union College
United States Military Academy
Unity College
University of Arkansas—Pine Bluff
University of Dayton
University of Detroit Mercy
University of Evansville
University of Findlay
University of Hartford
University of Houston-Victoria
University of Indianapolis
University of Jamestown
University of Mount Olive
University of Mount Union
University of Pikeville
University of Saint Francis
University of Saint Joseph
University of Saint Thomas
University of Scranton
University of Sioux Falls
University of St. Thomas
University of Texas—El Paso
University of Texas—Rio Grande Valley
University of the Pacific
Upper Iowa University
Ursinus College
Ursuline College
US Air Force Academy
US Coast Guard Academy
US Merchant Marine Academy
US Naval Academy
Valparaiso University
Warren Wilson College
Wartburg College
Washington Adventist University
Washington and Jefferson College
Wayne State College
Wellesley College
Wesley College
Wesleyan College
West Liberty University
West Virginia University—Parkersburg
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Westminster College
Westminster College
Wheeling Jesuit University
Whitworth University
William Jewell College
William Woods University
Williams Baptist College
Wilmington College
Wilson College
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Wittenberg University
Xavier University

common app essays

All Colleges that Don’t Require an Essay

The deadline for Regular Decision is coming up fast. You’re probably all set with sending applications to colleges on your list. But should you add a few more options? The short answer is . . . yes. It’s a ‘roll-the-dice’ application season with many schools going test-optional and factors like distance learning still up in the air. It’s a good idea to hedge your bets now by adding a handful of schools to your application list. We put together this list of ‘no fee’ top colleges that also don’t require supplemental essays. If you want to add a school without the hassle of writing another essay or paying to have scores sent, this list has some excellent options for you.

Top private colleges that don’t require an essay

CollegeLocationAcceptance Rate 
Bard College Annadale-On-Hudson, NY58%
Bowdoin CollegeBrunswick, ME8.9%
Colby CollegeWaterville, ME9.6%
Connecticut CollegeNew London, CT37%
Franklin & Marshall CollegeLancaster, PA30%
Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA24%
Hamilton CollegeClinton, NY16%
Kenyon CollegeGambier, OH34%
Middlebury CollegeMiddlebury, VT16%
Sarah Lawrence CollegeBronxville, NY56%
Skidmore CollegeSaratoga Springs, NY27%
Wesleyan UniversityWesleyan, CT16%
Washington and Lee UniversityLexington, VA18%
Clark UniversityWorcester, MA59%
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC47%
DePaul UniversityChicago, IL68%

Full list of colleges that don’t require an essay

Albion College
Allegheny College
Beloit College
Coe College
Colby College
Connecticut College
DePauw University
Drew University
Furman University
Gettysburg College
Goucher College
Grinnell College
Hanover College
Hollins University
Hope College
Juniata College
Kenyon College
Middlebury College
Muhlenberg College
Ripon College
Sewanee—University of the South
Siena College
Skidmore College
Spelman College
John’s University
Lawrence University
Susquehanna University
Wesleyan University
Case Western Reserve University
Clemson University
DePaul University
Drexel University
Fordham University
Miami University—Oxford
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Northeastern University
Ohio State University
Seton Hall University
Stevens Institute of Technology
Stony Brook University
SUNY Binghamton University
SUNY Buffalo
University of Alabama
University of Arkansas
University of Colorado -Denver
University of Connecticut
University of Dayton
University of Delaware
University of Denver
University of Iowa
University of Minnesota
University of Nebraska—Lincoln
University of New Hampshire
University of the Pacific
University of Pittsburgh
University of St. Thomas
University of Vermont

common app tools

Hack the Activities Section of the Common App

Some families breathed a sigh of relief when colleges went test optional for incoming 2021/22 applicants. On the flip side, test-optional admissions policies have put a laser-like focus on the personal essay and the activities section of the Common App — a section that matters more now than ever.

“A poorly crafted activities list is one of the most common issues we encounter when working with students, even those with Ivy-caliber credentials and otherwise flawless applications,” said Andrew Belasco, CEO/Counselor at CollegeTransitions.

Admissions experts agree that a carefully considered and planned activities section can give a college admissions officer a compelling insight into who a student is when they’re not in the classroom. “The Common Application has room to briefly include a long list of activities, but remember quality always trumps quantity,” says Lynn O’Shaughnessy from The College Solution.

A poorly crafted activities list is one of the most common issues we encounter when working with students…

Andrew Belasco, CEO/Counselor at CollegeTransitions.

The Activities Section Matters Even More Now

There are three small writing sections to each of the ten activities that an applicant has to complete. Students often fail to take full advantage of the opportunity to shine in these micro-essays. Test-optional colleges are putting more emphasis on a student’s activities section and hastily written and unedited essays bode ill for applicants, regardless of how good the rest of their application may be.

Admissions expert Torrey Kim from College Confidential reached out to experts for their opinion on how the activities section will be evaluated this admissions season. The conclusion: It’s a myth that Admission officers don’t expect to see extracurriculars during the pandemic. In fact, they will be looking to see if you were resourceful or if you supported your community in any way.

The Activities Section is Not Applicant Friendly

The activities section is frustrating to fill out. There are nine fields to complete for each activity. And three of them have specific purposes and character counts: Position/Leadership description, Organization Name, and Activity Description. Applicants have to switch back and forth from a word processor to the Common App as they craft these sections. Selecting a section and running a character count and spell check from a word processor is tedious and can result in errors.

Simplify The Activities Section with This Tool

Now there’s an excellent character counter and browser spell-check tool — Common App Activity Character Counter and Spell-Check — on MeritMore that makes filling out this section easy and hassle-free, freeing up students’ time to pay closer attention to what they’re actually submitting. After a student is done editing on the tool, they copy and paste directly to the Common App. It couldn’t be more simple.

Sebastian Delmont, parent of senior, said, “My daughter was spending a lot of time getting her character count just right. This was very helpful.”

Level Up Your Activities Section–Tips from The Experts

These experts offer valuable and actionable recommendations:

College Essay Guy offers excellent tips as well as examples of stellar activities sections other students have written (Who doesn’t love an example?!). One of the best features in their guide is the exhaustive ‘College Essay Guy’s epic list of activities list verbs’ that will improve your activity descriptions in orders of magnitude.

College Transitions details these 5 actionable rules for students to strategize and craft a stellar activities list:

  • Ask why you are including an activity
  • Put the most important activities at the top
  • Use allotted space wisely
  • Use space strategically–avoid redundancy with fields
  • Don’t ignore the rules of writing

Craft and proofread this section with every bit as much care as your essay.

College Transitions

Elyse Krantz a former admissions officer, put together a useful list of activities dos and don’ts including:

  • DO choose a different word at the beginning of each description line and avoid vague words that don’t reveal any particular skill.
  • DO add activities that were impacted by COVID-19. Mention the pre-pandemic competitions, summer programs, and internships you would have participated in. 
  • DON’T exaggerate your time commitments. Be truthful, and don’t embroider the facts.
  • DON’T feel bad if you have fewer than 10 activities to list on the Common Application. Admissions officers favor depth over bread