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10 Tips to Help High School Students Ace the Common App

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10 Tips to Help High School Students Ace the Common App

Most high school seniors use the Common Application to apply to colleges. Since over 600 schools now use this application, students can apply to multiple schools with one application. That doesn’t mean your student should “phone it in,” however. Taking the Common App seriously is the first step in completing an application that will help you stand out and receive an offer of admission.

Here are 10 tips that will help high school students ace the Common App this year:

1. Start early and familiarize yourself with the application.

Students can now access the Common App site, log in and start an application any time during their high school career. The new Common App rollover feature allows students to use the information from one year to the next and, in theory, allows you to begin to work on the Common App as early as freshman year. But that’s not to say students should start that early. Familiarize yourself with the App, but wait until junior or senior year to actually start to complete it.

2. Double check deadlines on college websites.

The Common App provides students with an application requirements grid in a downloadable PDF format. This is information on all of the participating schools’ deadlines and application requirements. BUT … this information has been wrong in the past so it’s important to double check with the college’s website to verify dates and other information. Colleges will also send email notifications to interested students regarding upcoming application deadlines or corrections in the information.

3. Take your time and pay attention.

As you complete the application, verify you are completing the proper information and don’t make the mistake of answering the wrong prompt or choosing the incorrect option. This is just one more reason not to be rushing at the last minute.

4. Write and edit offline.

It’s a good practice to prepare your personal statement or college essay, activities section and any writing supplements offline. This way, you can use a spell and grammar checker and make any corrections that might be necessary before importing them into the application itself. Doing this will also help you stay within the designated word counts. Once you are satisfied with your writing, it will be easy to copy and paste your information into the Common App.

5. Pay attention to the order in which you list items.

List your most impressive classes and extracurricular activities first. Remember that colleges are looking for sustained commitment. Don’t waste the space listing unimportant activities or community service that fail to show this level of involvement.

6. Report your best scores if possible.

The Common App will ask you which test scores you want to report to each specific college. When given the option, always report your best scores. Each college has different requirements, however; it’s important to tailor your score report to each college you apply to. Edit the test page for each college to satisfy their requirements while providing the best picture of your standardized test scores. Don’t forget to send your official score reports to each college.

7. Don’t forget to add recommendation-letter writers.

Naviance makes it easy for the teachers who submit recommendation letters for you to the colleges. If your school doesn’t use Naviance, you can easily assign recommenders in the Common App and they can submit their letter online, or print out the forms and mail them. You can keep track of submitted letters on your dashboard.

8. Before submitting, review all aspects of the application.

Carefully review a PDF copy of your application before submitting it. And you can ask someone else to proof it, as well. Look for formatting issues resulting from copying and pasting. Make the necessary corrections before submitting. Once you have submitted the application along with payment, you will see a confirmation on your dashboard that it has been submitted.

9. If additional supplements are necessary, submit according to directions.

Some colleges will ask for additional essays or arts supplements. Be aware of these requirements and submit them as directed. It’s also important to note that anytime something is listed as “optional” on the application, you should strongly consider submitting it. These items could help your student stand out from the rest of the applicant pool.

10. Beware of technical glitches!

In 2014, the Common App site crashed during the height of the early-application season. As you can imagine, this caused quite a panic among students as many were unable to login and submit their applications on time. The moral of this story? Don’t wait until the last minute before the deadline to submit your Common Application! Give yourself plenty of time to troubleshoot any problems!

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Written by Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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