2014 Guide to the Common App: Part 1

puppy doing common app It’s August 1, 2014, and you Seniors know that that means–the Common App is live!  Let’s walk step-by-step through this beast and help you make sure yours is AMAZING!!

  • Log onto www.commonapp.ORG (NOT .com, those guys are posers trying to lure stressed teens to a bogus site!)
  • Create an account and use proper capitalization and punctuation!  Do not make errors.  The info you enter will be used on your Common App, so heads up.  Be sure to capitalize the first letter of Street, Road, Avenue, etc for your address.
  • Check YES that colleges can contact you.  Why not?
Great!  You’re set up!
  • Now click “College Search”.  Search for each of your colleges by name and add them to your list.  After each one click “Criteria” to go back and keep adding schools.  You only need to apply to about 7 colleges. If you need help choosing colleges you can create a balanced college list on CollegeMapper, with Reach, Match and Safety schools.
Ok, so you’ve got your colleges added!  
  • If you click Dashboard you can see them all, but not much else at this point.
You will have to complete two major sections to apply to college: “My Colleges” and “Common App”.  Let’s look at “My Colleges” first!
  • Click on a college and you will see an “Application” section listed beneath it, which has to do with the college’s specific application.  It will look like this:
  • Questions 
  • Recommendations and FERPA
  • Review and Submit

Let’s talk about the 3 sections:
1.  Questions
  • You need to go section by section under each college and fill each section out until you get the green checkmark.  (Super fun. If you’re grounded. Otherwise really dull.)
  • You need to answer all of the questions for each college because sometimes when you answer a question, a new question pops up and this could even be a TEXT BOX (essay), so be on high alert for that.
  • A common question colleges like to ask is “Do you intend to pursue need-based financial aid?”  Answer this truthfully.  It’s asking about NEED based aid.  Will you qualify for need?  This means filling out the FAFSA.  If you need aid, then DO check this box because this is where you get considered for need-based aid.  If you are low income, do not be afraid to check this because the colleges want to help you.  It’s tougher for everyone else because colleges only have so much financial aid to give, so they love anyone who doesn’t have to check this box.  Most of the rest of this section is straightforward.  If I missed something, post a question to me in the CollegeMapper Forum.  🙂
  • ALWAYS CHECK YES FOR MERIT AID.  This means free money based on your application.  Let them decide if you qualify or not, so check this box!!!
  • If a college asks how you learned about them, check as many as you can.  Be honest, but check as many as humanly possible.  It shows interest.
  • They will ask if you want to be a Full time or Part time student (probably Full, that’s the norm)
  • They will ask your preferred start date.  That’s almost always going to be Fall 2015.
  • They will ask for your preferred admission plan.  This is where you get to decide Early Decision (ED: which is a binding contract you can do only with one school) or Early Action (EA: which is not binding but makes you look on the ball.)
  • After you choose ED or EA then your deadlines will show up on your dashboard.  Cool.
  • Some colleges might ask you to enter Short Answers or Additional Information at the end of this Questions section. If so, you will see text boxes pop up here and these you want to copy paste onto your Master List of Prompts for sure.

2.  Recommendations and FERPA
You need to check four boxes here:
  • I have fully read this FERPA stuff (this page is actually a good read)
  • I authorize my school to send my transcripts to my colleges
  • I WAIVE MY RIGHTS to read my rec letters and sure anybody (DO THIS–no college (or employer, for that matter) wants a lawsuit-happy, letter-reading-suspicious kid)
  • I understand I can’t change this…  Once it’s done you can’t
You need to do this section to be able to invite your teachers and counselor to upload your rec letters.
3.  Review and Submit

  • Be sure that you DO NOT SUBMIT the Common App yet.  You will work on it many times before you actually submit it.
  • This is a marathon, not a sprint, so get ready to log out and in hundreds of times.  It auto saves.  No worries!
  • Write your log in info in a safe place.
  • This is also a great time to make sure you have a professional email, instead of something like sexyhottiesenior@gmail.com (not an actual email, but I’ve seen worse).
  • And while we’re at it, clean up your social media presence because colleges check!
Then there is possibly another section under that, called “Writing Supplements” 
  • This includes little short answers and essays you will have to write if the college wants them. Some colleges have the short answers and essays listed in the Application section under Questions, instead of having a Writing Supplement section. If the college has this section, it will look like this:
  • Questions
  • Review and Submit
Let’s talk about these two sections:
1. Questions
  • If the essay/short answer questions aren’t available yet, the application says so.  In this case, call that college and ask what the essay and short answer questions are, and what length they can be.  (You want to write your essays before school starts–trust me!!)
Dog working on Common App 20142. Review and Submit
  • Remember: Be sure that you DO NOT SUBMIT the Common App yet.  You will work on it many times before you actually submit it.
  • Repeat after me: I will not submit the Common App too soon, I will not submit the Common App too soon…

As you go through all of the sections, create a Master List of Prompts (MLOP)

  • Each time you see ANY text box, copy/paste the prompt and the word count onto one-word doc, your MLOP, where you will be able to see all prompts together before you start writing like a mad person.
  • Copy/paste–do not put it in your own words because you have to be sure to answer the PRECISE question asked.  (Trust me on this.  Timesaver.)
  • If a college hasn’t posted an essay or short answer questions, call and ask what they are.  It’s August 1st.  They’re supposed to be ready.  Don’t sound sassy like I just did.
  • Look for ANY overlap in your prompts as you scan the list, and then plan to recycle those essays.  DO NOT write the same essay two or three times–RECYCLE!!!  Write each question only once, kiddo!
  • Many colleges will ask you “Why do you want to attend college X?”.  YOU WILL ANSWER THIS ONCE, in a word doc, and then recycle it for the others by changing all the proper nouns (names) within.  This REALLY works!
  • If an essay doesn’t tell you how big it can be, paste in 600 or 700 words of any text and THEN it will show the limit, in red.  Haha.  Tricky…
  • Once you have copy/pasted every prompt onto the Master List of Prompts word doc, and checked for recycling, count the UNIQUE number of essays that you have to write.  This is the number you are now fighting!  You can do it!  This number might be 7 or 12 or 18.  You should always be able to get it under 20 with clever recycling.  THINK.
  • DO NOT compose any essays IN the Common App.  You will compose all of your essays as word documents and edit them many times.  When they are lovely and shining and beautiful, THEN you will paste them into the Common App, many moons from today, young one.
  • Pump out every rough draft BEFORE school starts.  Rough drafts are the tough part. You can edit during school, but generating drafts is easier when you’re not stressed and not tired from homework and activities.
  • Aim to finish (polish, edit, finalize) your Early Decision and Early Action essays before school starts for sure!!!  Most of these are due 11/1 and you want to submit them by 10/15 so your apps can be COMPLETE by 11/1, not submitted by.  COMPLETE by.
Try CM button



2 Responses

  1. Could you please elaborate more on when to submit the application in relation to the deadline? Did you say to submit by Oct. 15 because it is good to be in the mindset that the deadline is earlier, or is there another reason like the amount of time it takes the college to process the application?

    1. Hi! Could you post this great question in the CollegeMapper Forum? I’m happy to answer them there, so other kids can search for answers. Best, Susanna

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