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The Common Application

The college application process can be a long and arduous one filled with confusing applications and the composition of essays for each school on a student’s list. The concept of downtime is a foreign one from October through January and already busy schedules are further saturated with extracurricular activities, community service, standardized testing and scholarship searches so anything that can free up a few minutes here and there without jeopardizing a student’s chances for admission – like the Common Application – is viewed as a knight in shining armor or a superhero in a bright red cape.

The Common App, as it’s often called, is backed by a 35-year-old not-for-profit membership organization “committed to providing reliable services that promote equity, access, and integrity in the college application process.” Member schools evaluate applications holistically, weighing essays and letters of recommendation into their decision as well as grade point averages and test scores. Like school-specific applications, the Common App requires students to enter personal, educational and family information, standardized test scores, academic awards, community service and extracurricular activities and work and criminal histories as well as complete a short-answer essay and a longer personal essay (there are six prompts, including “topic of your choice”). The description alone is appealing but the statistics are the icing on the metaphorical cake: In the 2009-2010 admissions cycle alone, approximately 500,000 students submitted Common Applications to the more than 400 institutions that accept it and admissions deans have said it helps to recruit more first-generation and minority students.

So should you use the Common Application? Seeing as though some of the most selective schools in the country – think UChicago and Columbia – have adopted it, we think it’s definitely worth it if you are applying to more than one school. The online system makes it very easy to complete and submit applications to multiple schools but some colleges and programs do require Common Appers to complete supplemental questions to gauge applicants’ knowledge of and interest in that specific school; these are NOT optional and neglecting to submit supplements means your application will be viewed as incomplete and will not be reviewed for admission.

But what if a school accepts both the Common App and its own application? Does it make a difference which one you submit? Not at all, say school reps. They believe in the Common Application’s mission and are certainly not going to discriminate against students who use it; as long as the caliber of the content is what admissions board members are looking for, it really doesn’t matter which form they receive it on. We say log on, fill it out and submit away…just be sure to note what each school is specifically asking for and to proof your work (or have someone else proof it) before clicking the send button. If you do it right, you’ll have more time to enjoy your senior year!

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