While the Common App is definitely more user friendly than many of the other college application platforms, such as the University of California application, Apply Texas or (wait for it) the Coalition which students, counselors and admissions officers try to avoid at all costs. However, for all its tutorials and tips, there are still a few tricks that can derail an unsuspecting student (and their stressed-out parent) when trying to complete the Common App.
Here is your guide to decoding the five biggest mysteries of the Common App:
1. Teacher Recommendations:
If you are a wise and considerate student, you know you should give your teachers plenty of time to write your letters of recommendation. So, the first thing most students do when they create a Common App profile and attempt to fill it in is to find the Teacher Recommendation section to get those requests underway. But, where is it? Searching screen after screen seems do to nothing to uncover this elusive section. The trick is that it’s not in the Common App section, at all. What? That’s right, folks. In order to sign away your FERPA rights (more on that later) and request letters of recommendation, you first have to add a school to your list. It can be any school at all – even one you end up deciding not to apply to. The secret is that your Teacher Recommendation Requests will be found within each individual school, rather than that standard Common App section. Once you submit your recommendation requests and your teachers respond with the letters, you then need to assign which letters go to which school. Sneaky? I think so.
2. Hidden Essay Questions:
In addition to the Common App Personal Statement, many colleges ask supplemental essay questions which can be found under the school-specific “Writing” tab. But, some sly schools hide their extra essay questions under other tabs. And, just when you think you are safe, some shifty schools do both! For example, under Tulane’s Writing tab, they ask, “Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane University.” So, the applicant who has planned ahead and completed Tulane’s application well in advance will most certainly be surprised when they go to fill in the rest of the application the day before deadline to uncover another hidden essay question under the Activities tab, “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (250 word max).” The lesson: fill out all the basic questions for each school as soon as you add them to your list to make sure you can plan ahead for all of their questions.
3. Appearing Essay Question:
Similar to the “Hidden Essay Question” is the “Appearing Essay Question.” Some schools will populate different essay questions in response to the answers you fill out in the upfront data questions. Your answers to what major you want to study, whether you have interest in an honors college or special programs or scholarships, may result in additional essay questions later in the application. Again, the lesson is to complete these questions early in the process, so you know what is coming long before the deadline hits.
4. Inputting Credits:
There are a lot of resources on the Common App to help you navigate how to input your credits but this is always a source of confusion, so I thought I’d break it down for you. Here are the top questions I get:
• If your school gives you both weighted and unweighted grades, always use the weighted
• If your school is on a 4.0 GPA scale, but your weighted GPA is over a 4.0, your scale is still 4.0
• Dual Credit classes are included in college course hours
• High school credits taken in middle school are still included here
5. COVID Question:
The COVID question is not so much a trick but it is new this year, so I thought I’d take a moment to discuss how to address it. Of course, if you or your grades have been personally impacted by COVID, this is where you can tell admissions about it. Perhaps, you didn’t have stable internet connectivity or a study space where you could reasonably excel in an online learning environment. Or, maybe you or someone in your family became ill, lost a job, or experienced some other hardship that impacted your grades or your ability to participate in extra-curricular activities? Tell us about it. However, if you used the opportunity of a less structured school curriculum and/or cancelled summer plans to explore your interests, delve into research or online co-curricular activities or serve your community, tell us about that, as well.
The Common App really is a user-friendly platform and has a number of FAQs and online tutorials to help you navigate. By taking advantage of those resources, in addition to these few tips, I hope you will have a relatively straightforward and stress-free application process. And, if that’s not the case, call me!