Review the Common Application early, get into a great college later

What is the single best tip for getting into a top college?

post-pic-what-you-need-to-know-about-common-appThe answer is surprising simple: Explore and understand the Common Application early as possible, even before entering high school if you can.

From this simple act, you will learn a great deal about what colleges are looking for in their candidates. You will also have time to strengthen your background based upon what you learn early on from this simple exercise. It stands to reason that, since these top colleges are highly competitive, students you will be competing against are doing plenty to build their college resumes, and now you will know how to build yours.

wide-thumb-common-appEach year, over one million students, counselors and teachers use the Common Application, which is now accepted by over 500 colleges, including many of the very best colleges. About 20 percent of all colleges are using the Common Application since according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics there are presently around 2,500 four-year, degree-granting colleges in the United States.

So let’s take a look at this revealing Common Application.

What college classes have you already taken?

At the Common Application website, you will notice that there are six main sections which are listed on the left toolbar: Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities, and Writing.

Proceed to the following section:  Common Application>Education>Colleges & Universities

This is a place for applicants to list college courses they have already taken while attending high school. Remember that good colleges are looking for evidence that you will be able to excel in college level courses. Completing and earning high grades in college courses are some of the strongest evidence that you can provide. Notice also that there is included a place for indicating the start and stop dates for your college courses. This is because the college admissions folks want to know if you took a college course right before submitting your college application, because you finally realized it could be important, or whether you have you taken college courses throughout high school. With the latter, it will most likely be interpreted that you have a true desire to learn about things that interest you, a sort of intellectual curiosity. Students entering top ten colleges often take more than one course from a college while in high school, with many students completing three or more.

What do you need to know about your grades?

Next proceed to the following section: Common Application>Education>Grades

Notice that admissions officers do not just want to know your grades. They want to know your class ranking and the size of your class, in addition to your grades. Many schools are now doing away with class ranking and so you can indicate this where it asks you to report your ranking. However, beware that the best colleges have ways of bracketing your class ranking even without you or your school reporting it directly.

What are your honors and awards?

Now select the following section: Common Application>Education>Honors

The Common Application gives you the opportunity of listing up to five honors earned during high school, when you received each honor, and on what level each honor was recognized. First of all, imagine how you will feel when it is time for you to complete the Common Application and you have only one small honor or no honors of any kind to list. Many qualified applicants to top colleges have more than five impressive honors to list.

What do you need to know about your outside activities?

Let us now go back to the six main headings of the Common Application and select Activities.

Now select the following section: Common Application>Activities

Again, notice that you do not simply list the name of the activity. Instead you need to include information such as when you participated, the leadership position you held, the number of hours per week you contributed, as well as honors and accomplishments. You can include up to ten activities. Colleges want interesting and passionate students who will make their campuses exciting and rich with activities. This line of questioning also allows the colleges to see how you spend your free time.

How can you do the best job planning for success?

The idea behind this tip for getting into a top college is to enable you to experience less stress by helping you to learn about how to get into a better college early enough to plan successfully for it. What we really do not like to see is the stress in late coming students who realize, too late, that there just isn’t enough time to accomplish what could have been done had they known better earlier.

Remember, it is not just about getting into colleges where you really belong academically and socially. It is also about earning academic scholarships and gaining entrance into honors programs at the college of your choice. Having a good plan helps ensure both.

View the Common Application

In order to view the Common Application, it is now necessary that you create an online account at the Common Application website. Creating an online account is easy and only takes a couple of minutes. If you are setting up your online account more than a year in advance, when you are prompted for “I am a(n)” you can simply select “none of the above.”

The Common Application used to be a PDF document that could be downloaded and printed. However, for students who were applying to begin college in fall 2013 and beyond, the Common Application is now completed entirely online. The nice thing about this change is that you can login to complete or update your application and then save it without submitting it. Prior to this although it was possible to type your information and responses directly into the downloaded Common Application PDF file, it was not possible to save the information unless you purchased Adobe Acrobat for about $100.


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