Back in the caveman days when I was applying to college, a student picked out 2 or 3 or even 4 colleges, wrote out each application as nearly as possible, got a large manilla envelope, mailed it in to the admissions department, and waited patiently for a thin or thick envelope in return.
Now kids apply to several colleges electronically, mostly via one application which is sent to many college with a few clicks. Or at least that’s students and parents who haven’t waded into the college application process believe.
Here’s where they’re wrong:
- Most colleges do accept the Common App, but not all do. Some use their own application and some offer the Universal Application, a Common App alternative.
- Students still have to send away for transcripts for any college-level classes they’ve taken in high school (like College Spanish, for example, or SUPA English), and have them sent to each college to which they apply (and each transcript comes with a fee).
- Students have to send each SAT and ACT they want the colleges to see to each college – again, with a fee for each test and each college. Just listing your scores on the application isn’t enough.
- Students now apply to 12 – 14 colleges because they can complete just one form (at about $70 per application). Because so many kids apply to so many colleges, each subsequent student has to do the same or risk not being accepted to a selection of schools. Colleges encourage this volume of applications because they’ll have more students to decline. Sure, they have more students from which to choose, but just as importantly, they’ll have lots of students to turn down. The more students they decline, the more selective the school appears to be, and therefore the more desirable.
- About two-thirds of the colleges add a supplemental essay (or two or three or four!) to “personalize” the application. Some colleges have boring, predictable essays, like “Why do you want to go to our college?” or “Why do you want to major in what you want to major in?” but others try to be creative with their supplemental essays, like “If you could have dinner with any person living, dead, or fictional, who would it be and why?” or “What’s your favorite word and why?” Of course, there’s THE college application essay, the one that’s going to go to all colleges, but don’t forget about all the supplements you’ll have to write.
Last year, the Common App people changed the Common App substantially. Some of the changes made the application a little easier to manage technically. Other changes made the application much less appealing. (I wasn’t the only one who found the changes frustrating. Read this article from last year’s NBC news.) Among the changes I object to:
The student used to be able to download a copy of the blank Common App. The student could use this template to gather all the information necessary before sitting down to input that information. Because the application website is timed, it makes sense to have all the data on hand before you start. (Do you know your guidance counselor’s fax number? Do you know what year your father graduated from college?) Last year, they decided that no hard copy would be available. NEWS: there is now a paper copy of the Common App which your guidance counselor can download for those students who want to fill it out in advance of typing in the information online. (I can also download it for my students. I’m not sure if students will be able to download it on their own.)
The Common Application essay used to be general, with the last option being “an essay of your choice.” They took that away. The current options are narrow and geared primarily for students who have a story to tell. If I my own sons were high school juniors, I’d certainly have them working on those essays over the summer. (Take a look at the essay topics.) No matter how busy you are during the summer, it’s likely that you’ll be busier in September and October. You can’t create an account on the Common App website until August 1, but you can certainly start on the essay.
Because of all the changes – and the increased number of colleges accepting the Common App – the website crashed very frequently last year. If you were one of the students who waited for the deadline day to apply, you likely weren’t able to apply to many colleges on your list.
- Write your Common App essay over the summer. (Yes, I absolutely can help with the essay writing process! )
- Create a resume over the summer (or at least list all of your academic honors, your sports, your community service, your extra-curricular activities, and your paid jobs (yes, babysitting counts).
- Ask your guidance counselor to print out a copy of the Common App for you now, before the guidance counselors are gone for the summer.
- Go on Common App website as soon as you can after August 1st to create an account.
As always, I’ll keep an eye on the news and let you know if there are any updates on the college application process.