4 Tips to Make Your CommonApp UNcommon


Even though many colleges have graciously extended 11/1 deadlines on account of Hurricane Sandy, many students and their parents (especially the latter) remain in get-it-done mode. While the desire to remove this stressful boulder from your shoulders is understandable, it can lead to eleventh-hour rushing, inattention to detail, and ultimately disappointing mail come mid-December.

While I am a huge fan of the CommonApp in general, one of its potential pitfalls is that it’s a web form, which to the net-gen means it can be done really quickly. And, strictly speaking, it can. With simple check boxes, drop-downs, text boxes, and precious few short essays, you CAN, with a gun held to your head (read: you do it the night before it’s due), get the whole thing done in an hour or two.

Big Mistake. Huge. Your application materials are the only way admissions committees get to know you and form the sole basis for their accept/reject decisions. Even if you’ve had an interview and met with coaches or performing arts personnel, they are typically NOT in the room with the actual Committee when decisions are made.

Your application, then, is WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD in the college admissions game. All your hard work in school for the last four years, all those hours writing papers, studying for exams, all those nerve-wracking class presentations that counted for a big chunk of your final grade, all the making nice with teachers you didn’t really care for (!), and all the suffering you endured around standardized tests will be for naught if you write a sloppy, disjointed, or common CommonApp.

Here are four tips to make yours UNcommon:

1)    Give yourself plenty of time. The two overarching questions you should be answering throughout your whole application are a) who am I? (what do I believe in? what are my values? what are my passions?) and b) how did I get this way? (what specific circumstances and/or significant experiences let to my being this way?)  These are not simple questions and do not lend themselves to facile answers.

2)   The Activities list is trickier than it looks. SO MANY STUDENTS somehow miss the bold-faced part of the instructions, “in their order of importance to you.” If you could do ONLY one of the things on your list, which would it be? That goes in the #1 slot, and so forth. Be very consistent in how you type in “Position Held, Honors Won, Letters Earned, or Employer” box and the “Details and Accomplishments” box. Resume writing skills come in handy here, and not many teenagers have enough experience writing resumes to do this well (even you, Mr. “I’ve held three summer jobs and two part-time jobs”). Get mom and dad to help, ‘cause they probably do. For example, most teens would write something like, “Member, Drama Club.”  Mom and Dad would know to write, “Active Participant, Drama Club.”  Big difference.

3)   Have a whole bunch of adults read your “final drafts” of your personal essay and extracurricular blurb. When you think you’re all done and ready to submit, print out a half dozen copies and give them to various teachers, coaches, administrators who know you (not necessarily your current teachers) and ask them kindly please to take two minutes to read your short essay and blurb and let you know what they think. Based on their feedback you might decide they’re not FINAL drafts after all.

4)   Get help from your parents or a professional organization, like CollegePrepExpress. They can show you how to use each component of the application to paint a vivid and compelling overall picture of your very best self—at CPE, we call this application packaging.

Finally, on November 7, CollegePrepExpress is starting its next CommonApp Boot Camp (in West Hartford and ONLINE) that meets four times for 90 minutes each. First TEN to sign up get to participate. See our website for details.

Take your time with your applications, Happy Halloween, and GOOD LUCK! 🙂


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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