Look anything but common on the Common App

By Suzanne Shaffer

(Click here to view our essential guide to the Common App for parents.)

Get organized

Your student should collect the following information:

  • Family demographic information (including her social security number, and education/employment information for parents/guardians)
  • Educational history (starting with 9th grade)
  • ACT and/or SAT scores and exam dates (official scores must be sent separately but she self-reports them here)
  • List of academic honors earned in high school
  • List of extracurricular activities (starting in the 9th grade)
  • Work and volunteer history during high school.

If she’s maintained a resume throughout high school, it will all be at her fingertips; otherwise, this is the perfect time to pull this information together. She will need to refer to it when she applies for scholarships. As early as possible fall semester, she should request her high school transcript and ask for teacher and counselor recommendations. When names and contact information for these people are entered, the Common App “invites” them to upload the required materials directly into your student’s Common App.

Tell a story

Encourage your student to spend time up front on some self-reflection. This isn’t easy but can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill application and an uncommon one. What makes her tick? How does she like to learn? What does she do outside of school and why? What should admissions committees understand about her? What does she want to learn and do in college? This is her story, and knowing it can help her weave together all the separate portions of the Common App, including the essay(s).

View the 2015-2016 Common Application essay prompts, and click here to see a YouTube video explaining how to complete the writing section.

Leave plenty of time

To be completed well, the Common App takes time. Urge your student not to procrastinate! She can start by creating an account, entering some easy stuff in the Profile section, and then sign out and walk away. Later, she can tackle a few more sections. Moving around between different sections will make the interface more familiar — and somewhat easier — each time she works on the App. Breaking up the application eases the stress and gives her time to review and fine tune the information. Leaving plenty of time also allows her to see when her counselor and teacher letters have been uploaded, so that she can follow up about this if needed.

Understand when and how to use the Additional Information section

This part of the application allows students to share important personal information that isn’t included elsewhere. No brag sheets or resumes, please. Your student might use this section to shed light on unusual grade trends or test scores, homeschool experiences, changing schools during high school, learning or physical disabilities, or any life event that’s affected her high school years but that perhaps she didn’t want to write about in the main or supplemental essays. The Additional Information section is not required — it’s perfectly fine to leave it blank if your student feels the rest of the application and essay(s) tell her story.

Get help

The far right column shows help topics related to each section. Your student can bookmark the Applicant Solutions Center, where she can find help with any aspect of completing the application (she can ask questions or chat with an expert, plus search and view FAQs). If she uses social media, she can follow on Twitter @CommonApp and “like” the Common App Facebook page. The college application process offers endless opportunities for confusion and frustration, most of which are amplified as deadlines near. The Common App tries to help by providing these resources. Use them.

Check and check again!

Your student does not want her application rejected because of errors or omissions. Once she’s checked it and she’s sure it’s all looking good, she should check it again and then do a final proofread with a parent.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s new High School Parent eNews and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for a preview of what’s ahead. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow High School parents by joining our High School Parent Facebook group.

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