Mistakes to Avoid on the Common App
The Common Application is accepted by more than 900 schools.
It enables students to apply to multiple schools at once without having to repeat information on each application.
As helpful as the application is, admissions counselors say students often make mistakes when filling it out that could be avoided with a little research.
With that in mind, here are some tips for applying to schools using the Common App so you can avoid the I wish I had known that! feeling later.
Common App Deadlines
The Common App goes live on August 1 for the upcoming admissions season. The Early Decision and Early Action deadlines for most colleges and universities are typically November 1 or 15.
The Regular Decision deadline is typically January 1. Be sure to check each college and university that your child is applying to for specific deadlines.
This information can be found on college websites or under the university name when your student adds the university to their Common Application to begin applying.
Common Mistakes in the Activities Section
Listing Unclear Activities
The goal in the Activities section is for admissions officers to gain a clear picture of your child’s involvement.
With the limited characters you are given to describe activities, it’s important that your child describe those activities in the most concise way possible.
Encourage them to use short descriptions.
Listing Activities in the Wrong Order
There are ten spots to list extracurricular activities on the Common App list.
Activities should be organized from the most important to the least important. This will help when admissions counselors are skimming the activities list.
They’ll know which activities are most important to your child based on what’s ordered first, and spend more time reviewing this information than smaller commitments at the bottom of their list.
Things to consider when ordering: recognition and honors, time commitments, and leadership positions.
Common App Resume Mistakes
Not Taking Advantage of the Resume
Not all schools accept resumes as part of the Common App, but for the majority of schools that do, it’s a great way to show how your student has gotten involved in activities that may not have been included or fully described on the activities list.
It’s also an opportunity for your child to discuss their role in clubs or on teams and how that role has changed over the years.
For colleges that have gone test-optional, resumes have become more valuable as another source for admissions officers to use in getting to know your student.
According to Nancy Griesemer, Founder of College Explorations, “a thoughtfully constructed resume will also ‘show’ the kinds of non-quantifiable character traits colleges are increasingly anxious to capture and evaluate in the admissions process.”
Common App Essay Mistakes
Writing Generic Essays
Your student shouldn’t be writing a generic essay that could be about any high school student.
Instead, they should tell personal stories that are not explained in the activities list to write a more unique personal statement.
With the many essays admissions officers read, it’s important to take every opportunity to stand out.
Other Common App Mistakes
Space is precious on the Common Application.
Admissions officers only have a short amount of time to read your child’s application, so while it’s important that your child show why they are unique in different sections of the application, they should be careful not to repeat the same information in those sections.
Not Answering Supplementals
Even when a school indicates that a supplemental essay is optional, write it anyway.
Not doing so might indicate to admissions officers that your student is not seriously considering their university. It is a wasted opportunity for your child to not write the essay and share more about themself.
Not Proofreading and Checking for Spelling Errors
Your child should read over the application—and review the entire document—before submitting. It can help to have someone else proofread the application for spelling errors that they may not have caught.
Not Securing All Third-Party Documents
Double-check that all documents are properly submitted, including third-party documents such as test scores, school profiles, and more.
If the document is not on the Common Application but still needed, your child should check the individual college or university website to see if all elements of the application have been turned in.
Using Inappropriate Email Address
Verify that the email address provided is still current and remind your student to check it frequently for correspondence.
Your child should consider creating a new email address for college admissions if theirs is cutesy, risque, or could be deemed inappropriate.
Not Clicking Submit/Missing Deadlines
Once your student has reviewed and submitted the application, they should verify that it was sent properly to each individual school by the deadline. Leave enough time to ensure that any glitches in the Common Application did not affect the submission.
Always check email for confirmation. You may also see virtual confetti pop up on the screen when your child’s application has officially been received.
That’s a good thing!
If you read through this guide and learned your child didn’t make any of these common (Common App) mistakes, you should feel confident that they’re ahead of the game.
Don’t worry if they did make a few.
Rest assured, you now know what to do to problem solve.
Watch our Facebook Live discussion about Common App mistakes.
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