2014 Guide to the Common App: Part 2

college application paw-tee
Hey kiddos! If you made it through the Common App Guide Part 1 and are now about to tackle Part 2, you’re doing GREAT.

Let’s talk about each of these sections now.
  • Fill in each section carefully until you get a green check
  • Do not submit the Common App until it’s “that time of year”, like September/October.  Take your time and make it great!!  You’ve only got one shot to sell yourself; this is not the time to rush!
  • Personal Info:  This stuff is pretty straightforward (whew).
  • Address: List the house where you want to get postal mail and acceptance letters.  The house where you can check the mail every day, because you’ll want to.
  • Contact details: List your contact details correctly because colleges DO use them!
  • Demographics: This section asks about religion and ethnicity.  DO list these because colleges like diversity.  I always encourage Jewish kids to list being Jewish because Jews are a minority and most campuses have a Hillel that they like to see flourish. If your ethnicity is white, you are most likely of European descent.  (Very common question, from kids, actually).
  • Geography: pretty straightforward
  • Languages: DO list any languages you have studied in school.  The questions help you make it clear.  DO NOT list things that aren’t true or you may get busted in an interview.  And lying is BAD.
  • Citizenship: This is asking for your current citizenship and a US social security number if you want financial aid. You do need a SSN to file the FAFSA for aid.If you are a U.S. permanent resident who has an I-151, I-551, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card), then you are eligible for aid
  • Fee waivers: This year the Common App is giving you lots of options of ways that you might be eligible for fee waivers.  Don’t ever let money keep you from applying to college!  Contact your school counselor, and your colleges, to ask about fee waivers if you get stuck at all.  Colleges (and the ACT and SAT) are happy to help you pay for these things!  You just have to prove that there is need.  Usually your counselor vouches for you and it’s fine.

  • Household: This is where they want to know where you live and with whom and since when.  Pretty easy.
  • Parents: You can list one parent or both or even step-parents.  Just try to accurately convey your situation and if these boxes thwart you, then add an explanation in the Additional Info section at the very end of the Writing section.  Colleges really want to know your story, and everyone wants to help kids out!
  • Siblings: List as much info as you know, and if you don’t know, do your best guess.  Colleges are trying to figure out how old your siblings are and how much education they have, so make your best guess.
Education:pug works on college apps
  • School Counselor: Wow you need a lot of info here, so be prepared to go on your school website and enter this data carefully.
  • Other School: If you attended any other high school, this is your place to state it.
  • CBOs: This is asking about any free help you received doing your college applications.  They ask “Organization 1” and “Counselor’s Organization”–just list the same thing in both spots, it seems.  Super confusing.  If you did not get FREE help from a place like the Boys and Girls Club, etc, then don’t list anything here.  After school help from teachers doesn’t count here.
  • Educational Interruptions: Anything you enter here, and you can check several, will prompt a text box to pop up on the Writing page, for “Additional Info.”  So check your situations here, if any of these apply to you, then be prepared to write the answer.
  • Colleges and Universities: This question is asking if you took a course offered AT or THROUGH a college.  This does NOT mean AP courses.  (AP courses are high school classes for which you MIGHT be able to get college credit, though more and more colleges are not giving that credit.)  This question wants to know about colleges that currently will have a transcript for you.  List them all and then be prepared to send those transcripts to every college you are applying to.
  • Grades: This is where you list how your school does class rank.  Your choices are Exact, Decile, Quintile, Quartile, None.  Exact means your school tells you that you are number 57 out of 317 students.  Decile means your school only tells you if you are in the top 10% or top 20%, etc.  Quintile means your school only tells you if you are in the top 20, 40, 60 or 80% of your class.  And Quartile means your school only tells you if you are in the top 25, 50, or 75% of your class.  (They need to take this off of applications because kids don’t understand it and counselors report it anyway!!–Grrrr…)
  • Current year courses: List them all and spell them correctly!!    You can even list semester (or trimester) classes separately.  Be sure to list if something is Honors, AP, IB or Advanced!
  • Honors: This is asking about ACADEMIC awards and you can only list up to 5.  Make sure it’s academic and NOT sports.  🙂  Use things like Student of the Month and Most Valuable Editor or Yearbook, etc etc.
  • Future plans: Career–you must list something, so choose.  No one is holding you to it, but do look interested.  GIRLS: list something besides psychology, communications, and biology.  ALL the girls in America list those and it does not help you. You’ll probably end up changing your major anyway!  Degree–list the highest degree you think you MIGHT like to someday earn.  I’ll explain them here: BA (Bachelors of Arts, typical 4 year college degree called “undergrad”); MBA (Masters of Business Administration, 2 or 3 year degree after your undergrad BA, called “grad school”, makes you know more and earn more); JD (about 3 years after your undergrad BA, Juris Doctorate, called “law school”, to become a lawyer/attorney), MD/DO/DVM/DDS (Medicine, Veterinary Med, and Dentistry, 3-7 years after your undergrad BA, Med School-Dental School or Vet School), PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy, 4-7 years after your undergrad BA, called “grad school”, allows you to become a college professor), Other: for this I would list MA, which means Master of Arts (2-4 years after undergrad, called grad school, allows you to specialize in your field–ie, take more classes in it, helps you earn more).
  • ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, APs, TOEFL, PTE, IELTS: You choose the tests you took (or will take) and then those boxes will pop up below.  You only need to enter the ACT or SAT to be admitted to college, but you can list any of these others you may have taken, or will take this year.  If you haven’t taken the test yet, list the future test date and leave the scores blank.
  • The section does ask the number of times you have taken the test.  If you will be super scoring (asking the college to look at sections from different tests–IF they will do that) then you’ll need to list the 2 or 3 dates you want to use.  If you have one highest date and other dates you are not so proud of, then you will have to list just the date you want the colleges to see.
Activities:french bulldog works on his college applications
  • YES you do want to do this.  (What a ridiculous question.)
  • 10 possible: You can list up to ten so do try to get at least 5 things on there, things like clubs, sports, volunteering, after school groups, religious groups, book club, job, hobbies, family responsibilities, etc etc.  Basically think of everything you do when you are not at school.
  • Be sure to list family, work, other (hobbies):  Kids often think this section is only about clubs and sports, but you can list all responsibilities you have, and even hobbies that take up a lot of time.
  • Participate in college, yo: This also asks if you want to participate in this activity during college. Think to yourself “if the college has an equivalent, would I want to do this there?”  That’s the real question.  Try to check yes for at least a few of these so colleges can see how you will be involved on their campus.
  • Main essay: 650 words max, write this in a word document and edit it many times.  When it’s ready to paste into the box, do so, but DO NOT store rough drafts in this box or you may mistake them for final and accidentally submit them.
  • Required explanation: 650 words max if you checked any boxes that need an explanation, like Disciplinary issues, school switch, or education interrupted, this is where you will paste that essay after you edit it many times.  Get to the point.  Don’t whine or blame.  Have a good attitude and focus on what you learned.  If you answered yes to several of these questions you will have to share this space for those answers.
  • Additional Info: 650 words max, if there is anything else you would like your colleges to know, type that as a word doc and put it here after it is edited many times and final.  These things include: scheduling conflicts, tried to retake a class but couldn’t, not a great test taker, moved, parents split up, got sick and missed school, someone passed away and it affected my grades X year, etc etc.  Important extra info like that goes here, and it IS important so do include it.  Basically, if there is a weakness on your application, speak to it.  Tell the story behind it.  NEVER blame teachers.  Be as positive as you can.  🙂
Well guys, that’s how to master the Common App for August 2014!!  If I missed anything just post a question in the CollegeMapper Forum and it goes right to my phone and I’ll post a reply.  Keep calm and Common App on, y’all, and YAY, COLLEGE!!!

10 Responses

  1. Hello! Thanks for an excellent summary for the Common App! Can you tell me if it’s a good idea for a parent to be a recommender? How would the parent’s recommendation be seen? After all, no parent is going to say anything bad about their child! Thank you.

    1. Dear Happy Girl, No way! 🙂 You are right in being suspect of this idea. Would you post your question in the CM Forum and I’m happy to elaborate or give you more ideas. In the Forum kids can search for this great question! Best, Susanna

  2. Thank you for the explanations.I also want to ask you a question , in africa the GPA system is defferent from what the common app wants ,then what are we going to fill

    1. Hello Gertrude!

      It’s so lovely to hear from you all the way in Africa. 🙂 The Common Application allows for all types of GPAs to be entered, so you should be able to select your GPA scale. If you cannot easily find that feature, submit a help ticket on the Common App and they will reply very quickly to show you how to do it.

      Please let me know what they say!
      Yay, college!

  3. I have transcripts of my 2yr completed University Grades, where to I attach the PDF?
    I’m a counselor

    1. Hello, You need to contact each college and ask how they would like to receive these transcripts. Most do not want them attached/uploaded. Transcripts must be sent directly from the college you attended to the college to which you are applying. Cheers, Susanna

    1. Hi Yamina! On this same website, CollegeMapper, go to the top of the page under Resources and check:

      Sample Essays

      There are tips on all 4 of those pages on how to write a strong college essay. Yay, college! Susanna

  4. Hey, so I skipped a few math pre-math classes, so I’ve been taking my math classes a few years ahead, does that make them accelerated or is that something else? Also, it’s really cool of you to be doing this, thank you!

    1. Hi Allison, Courses are only considered Honors, Accelerated, AP or IB if that is what they say on your high school transcript. You’re welcome! Susanna

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