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Navigating the Common Application: A Student Perspective

Lisa Albro

Written by Lisa Albroon August 10th, 2012

I came to College Coach after having worked on “both sides of the desk” — admissions and college counseling. At Goucher College, I managed recruitment and travel for over 30 states and oversaw the student, parent, and alumni volunteer programs. As much as I loved representing my alma mater and meeting so many bright, talented students year after year, I discovered that I longed for the opportunity to develop the kind of relationships with my students that could only come from working with them day after day. On the high school side, I worked with every student in the grade, from the valedictorian to the bottom of the class. This taught me how to meet the needs of a variety of different kinds of students — how to identify appropriate programs for each one, and how to help each student make his applications shine. In the span of a day I could be helping ten students with applications to Ivy League schools and ten others with applications to service academies, public universities, and regional colleges.
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The Common Application (“Common App,” for short) offers an easy way for students to apply to multiple institutions using one main application.  But just how “easy” is it, really?  Because I have worked with the Common App for over 15 years, I decided to ask two of my students, Sam and Megan, for their navigational “first impressions.”

Sam:  First things first.  Just go to the Common App and in the middle of the page, right under the Username and Password Login, click on the “Go Here” link right next to “Never Registered?”  You have to fill out your basic information (name, birthdate, year of graduation, etc.) and set up a username and password. [This is a document that will eventually be seen by admissions professionals, so everything needs to be correct!]

Megan:  Once you’re in the application, list your colleges.  Go to the task bar on the left and click on Search for Colleges, then search for, select, and add each of your schools.

Sam:  You’ll want to go to the Future Plans tab to choose Regular Decision, Early Decision, Early Action or Rolling Admission. The deadlines are shown with each option.

Megan:  And to start filling out the actual application, go to the Applicant tab.  Your name and address are in there already.  Just look for all of the other required fields, indicated by a yellow dot, and fill in that information.

Sam:  It’s pretty straightforward from there.  Some of the fields have character limits so you have to watch for that.  Also, the Activities section is kind of a pain.  You have to list how many hours per week and weeks per year you spent at each activity.  Lucky for me, I already did that on my activity resume.  It takes a while to figure out the amount of time you spend on everything.

Megan:  There’s also the extracurricular activity short essay and the main essay. The activity essay has a limit of 1,000 characters and has to fit in a small box.  I wrote mine in Word and edited it, then cut and pasted the final version into the box.

Sam:  Right.  And the main essay can be uploaded as a Word document.  Once I’m done with all of my revisions and I have the final version, I’ll upload that.

Megan:  I clicked on the Signature tab and all of these error messages popped up for required fields I had left blank.  What’s cool is that you can link to each error from that page, and can correct each one.  Once everything is filled out correctly it should let you sign your application and send it.

Sam:  When my sister used the Common App, some of her schools wanted her to submit the payment before the application.  Some wanted her to submit the supplement before the application. They all had a different order.  The Payments and Supplements tabs are on the left hand side toward the bottom of the task bar.  You can link to those pages from there.



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