The year was 2005. George W. Bush was beginning his second presidential term, Star Wars: Episode III was the biggest thing in theaters, and gas cost $2.30 a gallon. And, reader, I was filling out the Common Application by hand. On paper. With a pen. Yes, it was a dark time.
Today, of course, things are easier. There are nearly 1000 colleges that accept the digital Common App (there’s no paper version anymore), and you can even access it via an app on a phone! And August 1 also marks an exciting day for us here at Collegewise: The Common App will officially open for the 2022-2023 application cycle.
As is our tradition, about a month from now Collegewise will be releasing a very detailed guide giving you step-by-step instructions on using the Common App to craft great applications. We update it every year, and it’s something we take a huge amount of pride in. Over the years, our free guide has helped thousands of students, parents, and counselors make sense of the wonderful world of the Common App, and we hope this year will be no exception. While we’re finalizing this year’s version, though, we wanted to give you some advance advice before the full guide officially drops.
But first, a bit of context: the Common App has a section that asks about details that are specific to you, like your birthday and what school you attend. Then each college has its own section with its own college-specific questions, and that’s where you say what major you want on their campus, etc. (We’ve got a past blog post all about this if you want to read more.)
And now, here’s your quick-start guide to acing the Common App.
Get Started Early
The Common App’s pretty detailed! So although writing down your address and the name of your high school doesn’t sound too difficult, the whole thing can take quite a while to get through. Use what’s left of your summer break to sit down at your desk with some good snacks and knock out the easy stuff – the basic personal background information questions - early. You can also add your colleges to the application and answer all their College Questions before you get to the essays.
Pro tip: answering their College Questions is the best way to make sure you know all the essays you’ll need to write.
Don't Forget to Fact Check
I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t know the number of people in my graduating class or my mom’s exact job title. Don’t try to guess on the Education or Family sections – if you don’t know the answer, go to the source (school counselor, family member) to find out, so you make sure all of your information is actually accurate. And maybe that same person could be your final application proofreader, too.
Get Letters of Recommendation In Advance
October is a tough month for 11th-grade teachers. While they’re still getting used to the new academic year, every senior they half-remember from last year’s classes is clamoring for a letter of recommendation, somehow due later that week. Be kind to your teachers, and to yourself (those rush requests have a high probability of being denied): ask them a week or two into the school year, if you haven’t already. And definitely don’t send them a Common App recommendation invite – i.e., the form they’ll use to submit their recommendation to colleges – before asking them whether they’d actually be willing to write you a recommendation and getting that “yes!”
Practice Drafting Your Essays
Take your time on the essays – oh, and write them on a separate document
October 31st or December 30th are terrible times to start your college essays. While I don’t believe a “perfect” essay exists, awful ones sure do – and they tend to be written the night before applications are due. Start thinking about your responses in advance, and really mull over what you want to say and how you want to say it. A couple of drafts reviewed by a trusted friend, teacher, or parent never hurt either. Thoughtful essays are simply better than ones finished at 11:59 pm. Make sure you type them on a separate document, too. Pro tip: if you write your essays in a Google Doc, there’s a way to import your work directly into the application. Just make sure you double-check the formatting after importing.
- How to Write a College Application Essay
- Crushing Your Supplemental Essays, The Collegewise Way
About Us: With more than 23 of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools includes counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to 4x higher than average admissions rates.