Tips for Getting Started on the Common Application

Before 1975, every college had a separate paper application that needed to be individually hand written or typed and sent via snail mail. The Common Application was introduced that year to provide a single application that could be completed once and sent to all schools.

The Common Application has come a long way since then, and now includes over 700 college members’ individual questions and supplemental essay requirements. Each year the Common Application is slightly refined, and the 2017-18 version will be released on August 1st with the following enhancements:

  • Google Drive Integration: Students will be able to easily import files directly from Google Drive, instead of typing into the Common App text box, or copying and pasting from Word.
                        -Tip: Create a “College Application” folder on your Google Drive, and start saving any essay drafts, activities lists, and sample graded assignments so they will be easily accessible for use in the application process.
  • Self-reported Courses and Grades: Students should be prepared to enter their courses taken, levels, and grades directly into the Common Application. Colleges will still require official transcripts to be sent directly from your high school, but this will give them an earlier and consistent view of your rigor and performance in high school classes.
                        -Tip: Request an unofficial copy of your transcript before leaving school this June, so you can get started entering this information after the August 1st Common Application release.

    The Common Application requests courses and grades information.

  • Inviting Advisors to your Common Application Account: Students will be able to invite specific advisors to view their account. No limits or required credentials have been identified to date, and the goal is to provide an easier way for students to solicit feedback from their counselor, parents, or other trusted advisors such as your college consultant.
  • Spanish Language Resources: Key information on the Common App will be translated to allow better understanding by parents, advisors and students for whom Spanish is their native language.
  • Revised Prompts: You may already have heard that the existing prompts will be revised and that additional options will be offered. The essay word limit will remain at 650. The 2017-18 prompts are listed below, with changes noted in italics:
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]                                          
  • Although the 2017-18 Common Application will not “go live” until August 1st, there are several ways juniors can get started over the summer:
    Create your Common App account here.
    Start gathering information required for the Profile and Family tabs in the Common App section. These questions can be more time consuming than one might initially assume, as they require collecting information such as parents’ educational and work histories, and preferred contact information. You may input this information into the Common App, but remember that some questions change from year to year and those answers may not “roll over” into the 2017-18 Common App version. To be safe, save a copy of this information in your Google Drive.
    We do not recommend completing any more of the Common Application until August 1st, when information entered in this year’s version will “roll over” into the new version. At that point the enhancements described above will be implemented and available for use.
    Ask your college consultant to demonstrate the College Search feature where you can add colleges to your My Colleges tab. Your list may not yet be finalized, but it is helpful to become familiar with adding and removing schools in this section.

Summer offers a great opportunity to become acquainted with the Common Application without any pressure or deadlines, and that investment of time will make it easier to use later as students complete their application process.

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