Four Things You Must Know About the Common App

Common App ImageWhat is It?

The Common Application (lovingly referred to as the “CommonApp”) is the way most students apply to most colleges today, which is to say, electronically via a website (  The CommonApp boasts more than 400 prominent colleges in its membership, a number that grows every year: in 2011-2012, for example, 49 new schools will begin to accept applications via the CommonApp.

From the student’s perspective, there are two major components to the CommonApp, a generic section that goes to every college in your “My Colleges” list, and a school-specific section that goes only to each individual college, known as the Supplement section.

When Should I Do It?

Over the Summer. Don’t wait till school starts when you’ll be managing a schedule of college visits, new senior year classes, extracurricular activities, prepping for your last round of SATs & ACTs, and—oh yeah—being a senior! Get it done during the summer while you have a chance to breathe.  On the other hand, lots of seniors have been talking to me lately about writing their personal essays and getting a jump start on the CommonApp between now and the end of June.  BAD IDEA! If your English teacher or guidance counselor is requiring you to write a draft in the coming weeks, by all means, satisfy the requirement, but do NOT extend a lot precious time and effort on it. Proud of your proactive disposition, you may ask, “Why not?”

Being proactive is great, but even greater is getting your priorities straight. First, know that anything you choose to do prior to July 1, 2011 on the CommonApp needs to be saved as documents on your local hard drive (i.e., YOUR computer). EVERYTHING GETS ERASED FROM THE COMMON APP COMPUTERS EACH YEAR ON JUNE 30. “Each year in June, all current year applications will be deleted from the database in preparation for the next application” (Common App Knowledge Base). Second, you have much more important things to do in the coming weeks for your application candidacy, namely writing THIS year’s last papers, getting great grades on final projects, studying for final exams, and preparing for your June SATs, ACTs, and Subject Tests! Much as you might like, you won’t be able to do anything about these things after June. But you WILL have all summer to work on your CommonApp. Even if you have big and exciting plans for the summer, and we hope you do, you will be able to find the time to do your application before school gears up again in the fall.  FIRST THINGS FIRST, people.

How Should I Do It?

Carefully! Remember that the only way college admissions officers get to know you is through your application materials. You may be an IDEAL CANDIDATE and they might LOVE you if they had an opportunity to meet and get to know you. But the only interface between you and that committee is your application. Understand this, too: Just because you complete the application online via web forms does not mean committee members are going to read it on a computer. It will be PRINTED, placed in a folder, and READ carefully. Most of us complete web forms quickly—especially ’net gen students, i.e., college applicants—and it may give the wrong impression that the application is less significant than it actually is.  Take your time, especially on the list of Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience and the Writing sections of both the generic and the supplement sections. This is where the admissions committee gets to know you and these parts need to be done with utmost care and attention. If you need help, and you probably do, we know a great company that specializes in application packaging and editing :-).  Contact CollegePrepExpress and make some appointments over the summer to go through the whole CommonApp!

 What’s New for 2011-2012?

You can see an entire preview of the 2011-2012 Common Application, with all the changes highlighted, here. Most of the changes are cosmetic and won’t mean that much to you or impact the time and energy you will have to commit to the process. The one notable exception is…wait for it…a new word limit on the main personal essay. Whereas the essay used to be open-ended, the powers-that-be are now asked you to limit it to 250-500 words. In most cases, this means you’ll be writing a shorter essay than your senior friends wrote this year and in years past. That may sound like good news, but the reality is that shorter essays—GOOD shorter essays—are harder to write than longer ones.  Remember the famous words first penned by Blaise Pascal (and also used by Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain), “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” There’s no room for any fat in a 250-500 word personal essay, only lean, rippling muscle. Do yourself a favor and get some professional help with it.CollegePrepExpress is standing by for your call (860-519-1000) or email. 🙂

Related Links and Book:

Common App Members (i.e., schools that use it)

Preview of 2011-2012 CommonApp with Highlighted Changes

Getting In: The Zinch Guide to College Admissions and Financial Aid in the Digital Age 

About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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