The Common Application (known as the Common App) is a portal for more than 500 colleges and universities, that allows students to complete multiple applications electronically. Not every college uses the Common App, but many—including some of the most selective schools—do.
A few colleges use alternatives, such as the Universal College Application or their own websites. And some schools, including Harvard and Princeton, allow students to apply using either the Common App or the Universal.
For this reason, it makes sense to check out both of these portals. You can sign up for an account at each of the sites and try them out. Here are the links: Common Application and Universal College Application.
Last year the Common Application was riddled with technical glitches, which caused an uproar among students and colleges. Some schools were even forced to extend their deadlines. But this year it looks like many of those problems have been fixed.
Some of the improvements the Common App has instituted this year include: clearer instructions; integration with the Naviance software, which will allow teachers and counselors to file their recommendations earlier; and a more precise questionnaire for those students seeking fee waivers.
Filing your personal essay
The personal essay prompts on the Common App are the same as last year. There is still a 650-word limit. The prompts are as follows:
1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
A few words of warning
Applicants will only be allowed to do two “edits” of their personal essay using the Common App software. To understand the complicated rules governing what constitutes an “edit,” visit the Common App site.
Needless to say, seniors, now is the time you should be working on your personal essays! This is one of the most important parts of your college application. Once your essay is complete, be sure it’s carefully edited and proofread before you even think about filing it via the Common App.
Filing the various supplemental essays
Supplemental essay questions have been incorporated into the “questions” section on the Common App. Be careful you don’t miss them.
The supplemental essays are just as important as the personal essay. Be sure to leave plenty of time to think carefully about how you will answer these prompts and make sure your writing on these sections is top quality.
A very helpful feature
If you have problems with the Common App, they have a staff trained to answer your questions and offer help. Start by visiting the Help Center, where there is an excellent FAQ section. If you click on the “Ask a Question” tab, you will get a member of the support team whom, they promise, will respond to you fast.
Encouragement and advice from the College Strategist:
Although a happy few rising seniors are so organized they’re ready to file their college applications now, they’re rare. Don’t feel bad if you’re not there yet. You’ve still got plenty of time.
Write your “to do” list now and work through it in a calm and focused way. Here are the priorities I’d suggest for August and September:
1. Refine your list of colleges
2. Plan your college admissions strategy
3. Complete a strong first draft of your personal essay
4. Enjoy summer while it lasts!
For help on every phase of the college admissions process contact the College Strategist.