Everything you need to know about the Common Application
Photo Credit: iStock.

While students who have just graduated from high school are getting ready to enter the campus life, those juniors who are about to take their places are now starting the application process for college. The official starting bell for applications rings every year on August 1st, as the Common Application is released to students across the country. This online application partners with hundreds of schools to make the whole process easier for students and their families to apply to multiple schools at a time. We had the chance to speak with Casey Near, the Senior Director of the college admissions counseling service Collegewise, to see what students should pay attention to the most on the Common Application in order to stand out to admissions offices.

Everything you need to know about the Common Application 

Common Application

[Photo Credit: iStock]


Make sure to show off your personality

One of the sections that Neal thinks students should really make sure to pay attention to is the “activities” portion of the Common Application. She believes that many applicants choose to merely submit lifeless lists of sports and other extracurriculars they were involved in during their time at high school and don’t take the opportunity to paint a more vibrant picture for admissions offices.


Usually students see the essay section and think that’s the only place where they can share their voice but the activity section is the most overlooked one,” explains Neal. Adding “It only allows you 150 characters to describe each activity that you do. Which for most kids feels pretty stifling — and it is! But, there are a lot of ways that you can use that space effectively.”  

For instance, if you did not play soccer but supported your friends on the team — you can show just how kind and supportive a person you are with the space provided even though it’s necessarily a traditional “activity”.

“It’s much more interesting for me to hear things like ‘loyal bench warmer’, ‘always got water for friends’, ‘cheers the loudest’, or ‘loves the game’. That gives me a sense of that’s why you do it,” explains Neal, “that’s why you’re there. You’re not being recruited for soccer, but you clearly make an impact in your own way.”

Take advantage of optional essays

Many schools will offer a an “optional essay” on their section of the Common Application. Students should disregard of what the word “optional” actually means and use this opportunity to really make yourself stand out.

Even though the Common Application gives you the ability to apply to several schools at a time, this can be a double edged sword for many students. Neal believes that these essay sections should be treated like litmus tests for students to see if they really are a good fit or not.

“You shouldn't have to reverse engineer yourself to the school,” say Neal. “This supplement is their way of saying this is the kind of kid we love. Columbia is a great example. They ask ‘what plays, shows and exhibits have you been to in the last year?’ If a kid only says that they went to go see a Justin Bieber concert, they are probably not really the fit for a school that’s in Manhattan and for a school that is looking for someone who will thrive in an urban environment.”

The Common Application is available for students to download right now over at commonapp.org. Make sure to connect with a Collegewise adviser if you need more help filling out this application.

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