What to Know about the 2016-2017 Common Application

It’s that time of the year again! High school seniors are trading sun tan lotion for history books; summer jobs for sports practice; and extra-long hours of sleeping in for extra early homerooms. But there’s one other major transition on the horizon for many high school seniors: college—and the college applications that go with it. Over the next three weeks, we will be taking an in-depth look at the Common Application in order to bring you our best suggestions for creating standout applications. This week, we invite you to discover our top tips for filling out the Profile and Activities page of the Common App. Ready to get started?

Profile Page

Tip #1: Taming your email address and voicemail greeting

When you’re prompted to enter your personal email address on the Contact Details tab, take a few seconds to review the actual name of your email handle. Is it juvenile, risqué, or unprofessional in any way? If you don’t want to inadvertently raise any eyebrows in the admissions office you’re trying to impress, do yourself a favor and trade your less-than-appropriate email address for one that’s worthy of a young adult about to make his way in the world. That old fashioned firstname.lastname approach will suit this requirement perfectly. Similarly, if you plan on providing colleges with your cell phone number, please check to make sure you (a) actually have a voicemail greeting set up, and (b) said voicemail greeting is both audible and appropriate for the ears of an admissions officer.

Tip #2: Listing your religious, racial, and ethnic background

There are a total of five optional questions on the Demographics tab of the Common App. Again, let me stress these questions are completely optional. While some students worry that checking the box for one particular racial category or another might negatively impact their chance of acceptance, please know that colleges use this information in a purely holistic and unbiased way. It can be challenging to provide colleges with a full picture of who you are in just a six or seven page document, so consider sharing your family’s cultural heritage to better illustrate your background.

Tip #3: Proficient, or not proficient? That is the question.

Lots of students study a foreign language in college. In fact, the majority of applicants to selective colleges will have completed three if not four years of the same foreign language. But does taking AP Spanish or French 4 mean you’re entitled to check the “proficient” box on the Language tab of the Common App? No. Unless you feel that you can “communicate effectively and converse comfortably” in that second language, indicate that you are proficient in just one.

Tip #4: Scholar Snapp

According to the fine print on the Scholarship Information tab, students who check “yes” to Scholar Snapp will receive an email from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation’s Scholar Snapp program, inviting you to create an account at www.scholarsnapp.org. There are no strings attached when selecting “yes” here. Should you choose to complete a profile for Scholar Snapp, you will have the option of copying and pasting your existing scholarship information into a veritable scholarship application, like the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Scholarship or the Walmart Foundation Scholarship Program. Essentially, Scholar Snapp is attempting to be to scholarship applications what the Common App is to college applications: complete a single application form and send it to a host of scholarship programs. But you don’t need to utilize Scholar Snapp in order to gain access to these scholarship applications. Traditional search tools (such as those found on scholarships.com and the College Board) work well, too, and actually provide you with a much broader range of scholarships to consider.

Tip #5: It costs $90 to send my application where?

Applying to college can be expensive – really expensive. While a number of colleges charge $0 for students submitting a Common Application (hey there, Colby, Marquette, and Reed!), a surprising number of schools (nearly 300, in fact) require a payment of at least $50 to submit that application. If paying all of these application fees is in any way a legitimate burden for your family, do not hesitate to select “yes” on the Common App Fee Waiver tab. Colleges universally do not discriminate against students who apply using a fee waiver, and it’s a very easy process to complete. Checking that last box, “I can provide a supporting statement from a school official, college access counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader,” will sufficiently cover any student for whom paying hundreds of dollars in application fees would present a hardship.

Activities Page

Tip #6: Turning that boring activities list into a showstopper

The Activities page is one of the most often overlooked pieces of the Common App. Some students hastily complete this page with only one or two main activities, or simply state, “Please see attached résumé” and expect colleges to go rummaging through the rest of the student’s file for a separate list of activities. Because overtaxed admissions officers have only a few precious moments to peruse your activities list, make the most of the opportunity by using punchy verbs and detailed examples that make your descriptions pop. (I love this list of “action verbs” compiled by Dartmouth’s Office of Career Services, found on pages 9 and 10.) Your Activities page doesn’t need to be dry. Infuse personality into your text, and admissions officers will thank you for it!

Tip #7: The Preview button is your friend!

Completing the Activities page, when done well, can be a time consuming exercise. And even when you put forth your best effort to carefully and creatively construct unique descriptions of your extra-curricular involvements, sometimes mistakes are made. Enter the Preview button. Located in the upper right-hand corner of the Activities page, the Preview button will present a PDF version of your Activities page as it will appear to the colleges and universities you apply to. So carefully review your answers. Did you use the same formatting for all of your club titles? Did you use different verbs in each of your descriptions? Did you over (or under) estimate the number of hours per week you’re actually involved in each club? The preview page is also a wonderful tool for looking at the overall flow of your activities. While it’s best to list your most important activities near the top of the page, I also advise students to group similar activities with each other. When three different music-related clubs are separated from each other, for example, the impact music has in your life may be less apparent.

Next week we’ll be featuring tips and suggestions on completing the Common App’s Education, Testing, and Writing pages. In the meantime, feel free to review our top FAQs for filling out the Profile and Activities pages of your Common App by visiting our blogs from last year, too!

Check out Elyse’s other 2016-2017 Common App articles:

Common App Resources CTA

Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.