This year’s Common App launched Friday, August 1st.  Luckily, after a rocky implementation last year of a new generation of the Common App, the early experience of the 2014 version is going smoothly!   Rising seniors can now register for an account, complete the Common App form, add their colleges, and begin working on Supplemental essays.  Over 500 colleges accept the Common App, including colleges in the United Kingdom, such as St. Andrews, and other international countries. More students have already submitted applications, the number of technical help questions has decreased significantly, and response time to address inquiries is vastly quicker.

As the summer winds to a close, try to get a jump on completing the Common App before you begin the intensity of your senior year!

Key Features of the Common App 2014-15

College List

You are limited to including 20 colleges on the My Colleges page of the Common App.  Collegiate Gateway recommends that your final list include 10-12 colleges, an ideal amount if you have carefully identified features that are a good fit for you.  Your list should cover the admissibility range, including Reach, Target and Likely colleges.

Personal Essay

The main essay of the Common Application is the 650-word Personal Essay, a chance for you to tell the Admissions Office who you are, beyond your grades and test scores. Focus on features that differentiate you from other applicants.  Try to paint a vivid portrait of significant aspects of your identity!  This essay also serves as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills and creativity.

Here are the five essay prompts:

  • A story that is central to your identity
  • A time when you experienced failure
  • A time when you challenged a belief
  • An environment where you are perfectly content
  • An event that marked your transition to adulthood

You no longer have a “topic of your choice” option, as was available in the Common App through 2012.

Activity Section

The Common App includes an Activity section, in which you can list up to 10 significant extracurricular, volunteer or summer activities, along with a brief description of your position, honors and responsibilities.  Be as specific as possible in your descriptions, while also remaining succinct and to the point.

College Resume

Each college can choose whether to allow a resume to be uploaded as a PDF.  Only a few of the colleges that accept the Common App allow for a resume, including Colgate, Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, Penn and Vassar.

Supplemental Writing

In addition to the Personal Essay, each college can request or recommend that you complete additional essays.  Each college’s choice of essays may appear in either their Questions or Writing section –be sure to check out both these sections before you begin to write your essays, so you have a good idea of all the essays a particular college requires.

Here are some of the most common supplemental essays:

  • The “Match” essay. You may see this essay prompt phrased in a variety of ways: Why are you applying to a particular college within the university? What do you like about the university? What communities at the university you wish to join? What will you contribute to the university?  Regardless of the specific wording, the goal of this type of essay is to determine how much you know about the college, and how strong a fit you are. The essay may ask about general features of the university, or may focus on the academics. Do your research!  A few colleges that require a match essay include Barnard, Boston University, Brown and Bucknell.
  •  Activity essay. You may choose an extracurricular activity, sport, volunteer work, internship or employment, or even a hobby. Select an activity that is meaningful to you, and preferably a unique activity that helps differentiate you.  A few colleges that require an activity essay include Columbia, Georgetown, Penn State, Princeton, Rice and Stanford.
  • Creative essays.  More and more colleges have very creative essay prompts to encourage students to reveal personal qualities that are not apparent from the rest of the application.  For the first time, Dartmouth is including a choice of essays, such as “Every name tells a story: Tell us about your name and its origin.”  Stanford continues to ask “Write a note to your future roommate.”  Williams describes its “Oxford-style tutorial process,” and asks students, “Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why?”

Colleges’ essays are a reflection of the school’s values and identity.  Use the essays to express your own values and identity!  And if you need any help, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.