The fall semester is the start of college application season for seniors. The majority of colleges to which students apply accept The Common Application.
Here are some helpful pointers that we often advise students to keep in mind when filling out the Common Application.
The Personal Essay: Be creative and introspective
While much of your college application is a summary of what you accomplished prior to your senior year, the personal essay is an element you have control over up to the point of submission. This writing should complement the academic record and illustrate a student’s values, experiences, or interests. A good rule of thumb for the essay is to include roughly one-third descriptive elements that set the stage and inform the reader, while reserving the remaining two thirds for details that directly relate to you (e.g. what you have learned, who you are). College admissions officers seek to gain insight into the person behind the application, and what you might add to their community. Do not get caught up in selecting the ‘perfect’ topic. Many different sorts of personal anecdotes can be used to demonstrate broad, distinguishing traits about yourself.
College-Specific Writing Requirements (aka Supplemental Essays)
Many colleges require essays and short response questions beyond the Personal Essay. Do not underestimate the importance of these school-specific writing requirements. Keep in mind that colleges will be looking closely at your responses in order to evaluate not only your ‘fit’ for their college, but also the extent to which you have carefully considered your interest in the school. Plan to devote the same amount of time and thought to these responses as you do to your Personal Essay.
The Activities Section: Highlight your interests
The format of the activities section requires students to be concise in reporting extracurricular involvements. Consider which activities have been the most meaningful, rank order them, and put your most personally significant involvement at the top of the list in Common App. With only 150 characters to explain each activity, think carefully about the aspects that will be most helpful to mention in order to ensure that college admissions officers comprehend what you did and why it was important. Do not feel compelled to fill in all ten blanks - depth of involvement is more valuable than breadth.
When to use (or not use) the Additional Information section
Colleges do not expect, and certainly do not require, students to complete this section. You should only provide additional information if you have something meaningful to add, something your application would be incomplete if it did not contain. Examples might include a challenging family situation that contributed to a below average semester, or an explanation for an irregularity in your academic record (such as a repeated course). For students who have taken a less-traditional path through high school, this section offers the opportunity to explain that journey, the reasoning behind it, and how it has helped with college preparation. Students should avoid using this section as an opportunity to submit an additional essay or provide long descriptions describing activities.
Photo credit: Cody Snapp