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College application season is always a busy time for high school students. Every school has its own specific set of application requirements, and every student has a different set of outside responsibilities. Balancing them all can be tough.
Luckily, The Common Application exists to help ease some of this stress, allowing students to use a standard application for most U.S. colleges and universities.
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But even with something simple, confusion can arise. Since high school juniors and seniors likely aren't familiar with The Common App prior to application season, here are tips on what to expect.
Two current college students – both of whom used The Common App when applying to colleges – shared their thoughts via email on the intricacies of The Common App and aspects to know when completing it.
• Start early and allow time for all parts of the application: The Common App is a major part of the college application process – and students will want to get a head-start on filling out the application.
Rising sophomore at Scripps College in Claremont, California, Hannah Travis, said, "As soon as the Common App for your application term is open, make an account. Get started inputting the simple stuff first. The earlier you start, the less stressful it will be and the more time you can spend revising."
But students also need to remember all the parts of the application that they must complete. This includes getting letters of recommendation and possibly writing additional essays that specific colleges require.
By starting The Common App early, chances are lower that these extra tasks will delay students from completing applications on time.
"Get started on the application process as soon as possible. Some applications will take a longer time to complete and will require supplemental material," said Molly Turban, a rising sophomore at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.
Turban also noted that some schools may have special requirements for certain programs, such as an additional letter of recommendation from a math teacher when applying to a nursing program or an entirely separate application for someone pursuing an English program.
"In certain instances, it may even be advisable to review these requirements with your guidance counselor," she said.
[Learn whether you should use The Common Application.]
• Review the website: Students should consider reviewing The Common Application website and getting a feel for it before they begin completing and submitting applications. Turban found the website to be "very organized and easy to navigate," but suggested students consult their high school guidance counselors for any assistance with the navigation.
"Some students may want to review the nuances of this website with a guidance counselor if they are experiencing some difficulties," said Turban. "Guidance counselors often have a greater understanding of how to use the Common App effectively."
• Prioritize application tasks: Once students have a chance to map out a plan and understand all the tasks they need to complete, they should create an appropriate checklist.
Of course, one of the most important elements of the application process to review and prioritize is deadlines. Students should also confirm whether their prospective schools accept The Common App, although most do.
"It's pretty hard to avoid applying to at least one school that requires using the Common App," said Travis.
• Choose the best approach: Students should take note of any specific requirements on The Common App and choose the best approach to each situation.
This plays a crucial role in how students prioritize the tasks ahead. For instance, keep in mind the essay word count.
"I think it is very important to remember that there is a word limit when you are writing your essay," said Turban, referring to the 650-word limit. "It may be helpful to plan out your essay before writing it. This way, you can ensure that the most pertinent information and details are present."
[Discover what makes a strong application essay.]
Travis also said an important aspect of the extracurriculars section. "They only allow you to list up to 10 extracurriculars, which may make it difficult for some to choose which to include," she said.
Given this information, students may wish to be more strategic in how they list their activities, rather than just listing them in chronological order or picking the first several that come to mind. For example, they may wish to take into account the activities that they are more passionate about, that relate to their intended field of study or that they have held any leadership roles in.