For my AP English class each year, I assign a College Portfolio binder project. Since they take the AP exam I don’t want to give them another test, and this project helps prepare them for college applications in the fall.
They construct a binder that they hopefully can use long after the class ends. I show them my own job binder that has my teaching license, copies of job applications and reference letters, my transcripts, and other certificates I’ve received throughout my career.
Every student binder must include:
- Reflection paper over a job shadow experience
- Completed college application (I have them create an account on CommonApp)
- 2 Application essays (I send them the Common App prompts but they can use one for their specific school if they know it)
- To-Do list with deadlines for all parts of the application process
- A letter asking an adult for a recommendation letter (about 50% of this assignment is to learn how to format a business letter)
- Create an account on a scholarship site (like FastWeb) and look up 5 scholarships they can actually apply to
- Evaluate their online presence and write a reflection essay on the process
|Many students designed creative title pages|
Then they have a section where they pick three options from this list:
- Copy of their SAT, ACT, or PSAT scores
- Recent professional head shot
- Example of work (artwork, audition CD, writing, sports statistic, etc.)
- News clipping about something they have done
- Copy of an award they have received
- Application to one of their scholarships
- Create a LinkedIn profile
- References list: at least 5 people with job title and contact info that they could use as references
- Write a third application essay
- Research living options at their choice of college or city and create a poster, paper, or blog post about what they learned
- Password page – to keep track of all the accounts they use in the college process
- Another item as approved
|My artistic kids took photos of their projects|
I try to give them a lot of flexibility with this project to create and use what works for them. They didn’t have a lot of post-AP exam class time to work on it because of our AP test being later this year, but I passed out the materials before spring break so they had at least 6-8 weeks heads up.
If they had a piece that they didn’t need but had another idea to substitute, I was totally fine with that; for example, I had kids writing scholarship essays because their school didn’t require an essay, or I had kids submit a YouTube channel they created for a college with their video projects to fulfill two options.
|I don’t know how many times I had to look up my test scores for applications…|
The goal was for students to make something that works for them. For the to-do list requirement, some kids took screenshots of their Google calendar; some submitted pictures of their Bullet Journal spread. One memorable student wrote all her deadlines on post-it notes, spread them all around her bathroom mirror, and submitted a mirror selfie to show me she completed that portion.
The format gave the creative, uber-organized students ways to show off, and the check-list bare-minimum students could also find it useful. The options can be more involved (like creating a LinkedIn profile) or less involved (password page, reference list, test scores). I estimate students who are working hard could complete the entire project in around 8-10 hours – especially if they chose easier options, and I definitely gave them that amount of class time.
It’s not a small project, but now they have 8-10 hours they WON’T have to spend in the fall when application season gets busy; they can edit and polish the work they have already created before submitting to colleges.
|Some of my more creative students color-coded|
I really only grade the application essays closely, because those will be the ones they probably value the feedback the most. It’s not a super-fast grading process, but with most of it being completion it isn’t too bad.
My very first year I attempted to turn this project into a portfolio website, but my takeaway was that I took an English project and added a technology component my students at the time were not prepared for and made it much harder. Since I was in a rural district where many kids were not college-bound or even had internet at home, this ambitious project maybe wasn’t as useful to the kids as a tangible binder take-away.
My seniors often come back to tell me how useful this project was, and I hear from counselors and parents too how much easier it made the application process. One of my seniors told me she is taking hers with her to college to have somewhere to keep all her important documents in one place.
At my school, kids have to attend all final exam times except AP classes; because of the lengthy exam, teachers have the right to not require a final. My trick for this assignment is to give kids the opportunity to turn it in the week BEFORE exams – and then skip the exam time. If they want the extra 4-5 days, they can bring their binders to exam time and then stay for a fun discussion period (last year we did a Q-and-A for the teacher). About a quarter of my kids turned in their binders the week before, which sped up my grading time during finals substantially. All in all, this is one of my favorite assignments I require of my students.