10 essentials for colleges' Common Application

Imitation antique clock hanging on the wall in my kitchen William Warby

This is the second part of a series on applying to college with the Common Application. Here is the first post: Tackling colleges' Common Application.

Filling out college applications can be stressful, especially when time is running out.  That's why I'm sharing answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Common Application, which hundreds of selective private colleges and universities use. Scott Anderson, director of outreach at The Common Application Inc., provided answers to some of the issues that can drive applicants crazy.

1. You can generate more than one application. Students are allowed to have 10 versions of the application, but 97 percent of applicants stick with three or fewer. Ninety percent stick with the original application.

2. You can switch to a new essay. Students can create an alternate version to update or correct their college essay or any other part of the application. The process is explained in detail in the main instructions page of the student's account. Students should NOT use alternate versions to tailor essays to individual colleges. That is the purpose of the application's supplements.

3. Don't overdo it on the essay. Because the essay is an uploaded document, the online system cannot enforce a word count. Nonetheless, applicants are expected to adhere to the instructions specifying a range of 250-500 words.

Check out this story from The New York Times about the new 500-word maximum for the Common Application's college essayCollege Application Essay as Haiku? For Some, 500 Words Aren't Enough

4. No need to update the application with test scores. It's not necessary to update testing via the application itself. Students are asked to self-report testing already taken and indicate future tests to be taken. Thus colleges know if a student has new scores pending and the student should send those scores directly to the colleges from the testing agencies.

5. Double-check your work. Students often forget to preview the application, which allows them to see exactly what the college will see. Once they hit submit, they cannot retrieve the application. If they discover errors afterwards, it's too late for that application.

6. Make sure you hit the right Submit keys.  The application, supplement, and payment submissions are three distinct processes. Students sometimes misunderstand this and think that submitting a payment or supplement also submits the application. Their My Colleges page will always show the correct status for each submission at each college, but some students fail to check this information and incorrectly assume a college has received an application when it hasn't.

7. Communicate with your high-school counselor. If counselors are submitting their school forms online, the forms will not arrive at their destination college unless the student submits a Common App to that college. About two-thirds of the schools accept alternate applications, so it is important for students to communicate with counselors if they elect not to submit a Common App.

8. It's okay to mix online and snai-mail forms. Students want to know if they can submit online if their counselors and teachers elect to mail school forms. The answer is absolutely yes. They also want to know if the submission sequence matters (app before school forms or school forms before app). The answer is no.

9. Ask the experts. You can get help by contacting the Common Application's Support Center. All of its support emails come from the "commonapp.net" domain.  Anderson said Common Application Inc. always responds to requests for help -- usually within about 35 minutes -- but spam filters can get in the way, especially for AOL users. All applicants and school officials should make sure the company's email domain is on their safe list. 

10. Low-income students can obtain fee waivers for their applications. All schools that use the Common App accept both the NACAC and College Board fee waivers. As long as students meet the criteria outlines by these organizations, members will accept the waiver. Students indicate their intent to submit a fee waiver in the Payment section of the application. From there, students need to consult with their counselors, who need to verify eligibility. 

Time image courtesy of Flickr user wwarby.

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