College Application News – November – ACT, letters of recommendation, recording extracurricular activities

College Guide 4 Parents’ College Application News informs parents of high school students about college app topics relevant to this time of the year.


November college application news for parents of high schoolers: what is a good ACT score, obtaining good letters of recommendation, documenting your child's extracurricular activities


This month, seniors applying to Regular Decision and Rolling Admissions are busy working on their applications and making sure colleges get their best test scores.

In this newsletter, we focus on:

  • what is a good ACT score
  • how to get good letters of recommendation
  • what seniors should be working on this month,
  • what to record about your child’s extracurricular activities


The ACT consists of 4 sections each graded on 36: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The composite score is computed by taking the average of all four.

For many high schoolers taking the ACT and getting a good score represent a stressful challenge. In reality, most colleges do not expect super high scores. Indeed, while students accepted in ivy league schools typically have at least a 32, many state colleges take scores in the mid-twenties. The table below shows the range of scores obtained by the mid-50% of students at three colleges.


College Name

Range of scores obtained by the

mid-50% of the students accepted

Harvard University 32 – 35
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign 26 – 32
Louisiana State University Alexandria 17 – 23

Table 1. ACT scores obtained by the mid-50% of the students accepted


On the table’s second row, you can see that at the University of Illinois  25% of the students accepted typically get less than 26 on their ACT, another 25% gets at least a 32, and the remaining, the mid-50%, gets between 26 and 32.

Therefore, looking at the scores obtained by the mid-50% will help you find the schools where your child has a realistic chance to be accepted. CollegeSimply has a tool that allows you to do just that (see online resources below).


Related online resources:

Good ACT scores for college admission by ThoughtCo

This post looks at what ACT score a student should get to be accepted by top private universities, top liberal arts colleges, and top public universities.

The best colleges for 22 on the ACT by CollegeSimply offers a tool that takes an ACT score, i.e. 22 and returns a list of schools that typically accept freshmen with that score. Also, this tool can take the name of a school and return the range of ACT scores obtained by the mid-50% of freshmen they typically accept.


As part of the college application process, seniors must get several letters of recommendation. Admission officers use these and the essay to learn about a student’s character and to decide whether she/he would be a good addition to their school. It is therefore crucial to ask letters from persons who know your child well and who will be able to highlight his/her qualities.

Steps to obtain good letters of recommendation

(Guidelines by CollegeVine and DIY College Rankings, see below for links to their articles)

  • students should ask for the letters early and in person

Since many seniors will need letters, teachers will get numerous requests, maybe more than they are willing to work on. By asking early and in person students increase their chances to get a positive answer. Asking in person is more polite and will allow the teacher to make recommendations if she/he decides not to write the letter.

  • once they have secured referees, students must keep up with their progress

With online applications like the Common App, students can see whether a letter has been submitted or whether the referee is currently working on it. It may happen that a referee forgets or is unable to work on a letter.  Also a student may not have the ability to know whether the teacher is working on it. In these cases, she/he should email the referee a few weeks after making the original request and ask politely about progress.

  • students should provide quickly any additional information the referee might request

Teachers may ask for additional information like a resume or a list of extracurricular activities. Therefore, your senior should check his/her email daily so as not to miss any messages she/he may get from them. It is also critical to promptly provide the data they ask for. Teachers have many letters to write. If they do not receive the information they need quickly, they may switch to someone else’s letter and put your child’s request on the back burner.

  • Students should thank their referees

Lastly, once the referee has submitted the letter, make sure that your child thanks him/her if possible with a greeting card.


Related online resources:

How to get the best recommendation letter by CollegeVine

This posts provides insights into how to choose the right  teachers to write your child’s letters of recommendation and how to ask them.

5 ways parents can help their student get great letters of recommendation for college by DIY College Rankings

This post emphasizes the need to start asking for letters early and to carefully review each school’s requirements as these vary from college to college.


Seniors applying for Regular Decision

Depending on the college, deadlines for Regular Decision span from early January to early February. This month, seniors working towards these dates are wrapping up their applications. If your child is in this situation, do make sure that the colleges she/he selected receive her/his referees’ letters of recommendation and her/his highest ACT score before the deadline.

If your child would like to take the ACT a last time before her/his application deadlines, the next test date is February, 9.

Students applying for Rolling Admissions

Those applying for Rolling Admissions have a little more time to put their applications together and may not have started yet. Entering data in an online college application takes time and planning. The good news is that your child does not need to do it all in one sitting. The student can work on a section, save the work done, and come back to it later. See our October issue for a description of a typical college application.

4. FEATURE OF THE MONTH: Documenting your child’s extracurricular activities

The “Feature of the Month” addresses topics of interest to parents of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. In the last two issues of College Guide 4 Parents’ College Application News, the focus was volunteering and how participating in extracurricular activities will help your child write impactful college essays.

Today we will look at what you and your child need to record about each of her/his activities to be ready when comes the time to open these college apps.

How to report activities on a college application

College applications typically include a section for applicants to describe their extracurricular activities as well as include awards and distinction they have received. The image below is a screenshot of the Common App Activities section. It shows the level of details your child will need to be able to provide for each of her/his activities.


Common App Activities Section

2018 Common Application activities section


What qualities admissions officers are looking for

Understanding what admissions officers are looking for when they review an application will help you and your child better record her/his activities. It will also give you some insights into which extracurricular activities to choose.

Admissions officers are looking for applicants who will positively contribute to their college community. More specifically they are interested in students who have, during their high school years, demonstrated the following qualities:

    • competence
    • effectiveness
    • high energy level
    • adventurous nature
    • responsibility
    • curiosity
    • perseverance
    • cooperation
    • sustained commitment
    • maturity
    • character
    • passion
    • and focus

(source: Huffington Post, see related online resources below)

This may seem too demanding, but students participating in extracurricular activities get to run for leadership positions for a club, become their sport’s team captain, volunteer, or enter competitions. These experiences will give your child many opportunities to learn new skills, work as a team, and discover new interests and passions.

Another thing to keep in mind when selecting activities is that it is better to be involved in a few activities for several years than in a dozen each lasting just a few months.


How to record each type of extracurricular activities

The table below is a quick reference for what needs to be documented about each of your child’s activities.


Activity Type

What to record


School Sports  

Year(s) your child was involved in that sport.

Information about medals she/he received including name, location, and date of competition

Details about leadership position held in the team

Whether your child lettered in her/his sport


Cross Country:
6A Boys
10th place
Arkansas State Championships, Hot Springs, AR, November 2 2018

200 Freestyle
2nd place
2018 American Energy TYR Elite Meet, Mitch Park YMCA, Edmond, OK, Dec. 14-16 2018

Leadership position:
Team captain
Duties: assisted the coach and scheduled practices

School Clubs  

Year(s) your child was involved in that activity

For a leadership position
record the name of the position, the year(s) it was held, and a description of the duties 

For volunteering
record the name of the organization, the event, the date, the number of hours, and a description of the work done

For a competition
record the name of the event, the date and location, and the name of the award(s) obtained if any



Leadership position:
Club: Film Club
Led weekly meeting, organized monthly movie night

Club: National Honor Society
Local animal shelter
October 26 2018
2 hours
Played with cats to help socialize them

Club: Model UN
Washington Univ. Model UN Symposium, St. Louis, MO
October 12-14 2018
Award: Best Paper



Record the names of the organization or event your child volunteered for, the dates she/he volunteered, the number of hours, and a description of the tasks performed



Fall cleanup
St. Michael Lutheran Church
October 15 2017
3 hours
Helped clean up and mulch flower beds


Job Shadowing  

Record the name of the organization your child shadowed at and if necessary the name of the person she/he shadowed (in case, for instance, of a doctor), the date and the number of hours



Springfield Orthodontics
Dr. Robinson
July 15 2018
4 hours


Record the employer’s name, the period worked, how many hours per week, and the job responsibilities



June 1 – July 15 2018
10 hours/week



Record the camp’s name, dates, and location. Include also a description.



University of Arkansas Summer Music Camp, Fayetteville, AR
July 8-13 2018
Attended daily practices Monday through Thursday to prepare for the Friday concert performance.
5th chair


Boy/Girl Scout  

Record information about the leadership position(s) held within the troop: title, dates it was held, and responsibilities

Record information about volunteering opportunities: the names of the organizations or events your child volunteered for, the dates she/he volunteered, the number of hours, and a description of the task


Leadership position:
July – December 2017
Maintained troop’s website, uploaded campout photos


Wreaths Across America
December 15 2018
2 hours
Laid wreaths on graves of veterans


Table 2. What to record about each type of extracurricular activities


Related online resources:

What college admissions look for in extracurricular activities by Huffington Post 

Huffington Post explains how colleges use your child’s extracurricular activities to understand how she/he spent her/his time outside of school and to decide whether she/he would be a good addition to their school community. It also provides a list of the qualities they are looking for.

Complete list of extracurricular activities: 100s of examples by PrepScholar

PrepScholar provides an extensive list of activities your child can get involved in as well as advice on how she/he can narrow down which ones would be best for her/him.

Hospital volunteer opportunities for high school students: a guide by PrepScholar

PrepScholar discusses why and how to become a volunteer in a hospital

What is community service by PrepScholar

This article discusses the benefits of getting involved in community service and how to find community service project.

Complete guide: job shadowing for high school students by PrepScholar

This post explains what job shadowing is, its benefits, and how to find shadowing opportunities.


October 2018 College App News – ACT Superstore, Sending Scores, College Essays

Topics : ACT scores vs. superscores, test-flexible schools, how to send scores, and how starting extracurricular activities as early as 9th grade will help when writing college essays


September 2018 College App News – PSAT, ACT, Early Action, Early Decision

Topics: 2018 PSAT test, taking the ACT in the fall, and volunteering before senior year


2018-19 College Essay Advice: 82 Posts by College Prep Experts

This article contains links to 82 posts about writing this year’s college essays, like the Common Application, Coalition Application and ApplyTexas essay prompts, and the application and supplemental essays for 62 popular colleges including several ivy league schools, the universities of New York and California, and Texas A&M.


If this information were of help to you or if there are topics you would like me to address, please leave a comment.