Over One Million Common App Users In 2011

Common App LogoThe Common App revealed this week that it had over one million registered users for the first time in its history this year. This is a huge milestone for the site and also shows that applications (and the ease with which students can apply to large numbers of schools) are increasing to never-before-seen levels.

Remember to check in with our recent reminders about double-checking your submission status with the Common App and especially your payment status for all your applications. Finishing your submission is a multi-step process, so make sure all your documentation, supplements, and payments have been received by your schools before you consider yourself finished.

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A Simple Common App Tip For The End Of The Year

Common App LogoOur friends at the Common App offer useful tips and tidbits about the application process every few days on their Facebook page. They've reminded us of one of the most important tips there is - not to mention one of the ones you're most likely to forget:

Don't forget: Go to your My Colleges page and check the Application, Supplement, and Payment statuses for each of your colleges. If the status does not show as green, then you have not submitted that item--even if you think you have. Please do this now. It's much better to discover this today than after the deadline has passed.

Simple, but important, no? Make sure that your applications have fully submitted, and that the payments have gone through. As they say, much better to catch this today than after the deadline has passed.

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Getting Your Recommendations In

Common App LogoAt this time of year, with certain Early Action and all Regular Decision applications getting close to the deadline, it can be important to revisit some of the basics to avoid last-minute... how do we put this delicately... freak-outs.

Students should remind their counselors and teachers that any forms sent by mail should be addressed to the admission office of each college to which they are applying. This certainly sounds basic, but the good people at the Common App remind us with their helpful Facebook updates that these kinds of errors are anything but uncommon.

For teachers and counselors, please do not send anything to the Common Application offices. Though they will (thoughtfully!) post it return to sender, these kinds of mistakes, if made at the last minute, can weigh heavily on students. And if you know of people who are confused about where to send their recommendations, be sure to point them here.

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How To Handle The Open-Ended College Application Essay

Too Many Choices

You mean I can have any bag of lettuce? Any bag at all?
So many choices.

We have written about the style of the college essay many times here on CEO Blog. The form at its best is almost its own genre of writing – it is a combination of story telling, personal expression, and resume that demands a level of revision that most high schoolers are not used to.

There are all kinds of things that can make a writer freeze up when putting together a personal statement, but ironically, one of those things is having too many options. Many essay prompts, including the Common App’s long response, allow you to write on a topic of your choice, which is to say anything at all.

When you can write about anything, write about your passion.

Your passion won’t be the thing you think you’re supposed to write about, or the thing you think will be most impressive to the guidance counselor you are imagining, but it will be the thing that makes you sit up and say, “I can write about that.”

When you have that a-ha moment and recognize what you care about, your writing will actually improve. You will avoid cliché and, better yet, you will be able to write with detail that shows you understand the world you’re talking about. You will be able to invite the reader into an understanding of what you love and show why your involvement in it matters.

In short, you’ll be able to describe for the reader something about yourself that your resume doesn’t reflect as well as it could, and that’s the job of this piece of writing.

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College Application Essays: Pacing Yourself This Fall

Will you take a risk when you write your essays?

Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now applying to college on top of that. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your personal essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal. It can be time consuming and even emotionally draining, depending on your choice of topic. Make sure to pace yourself accordingly and keep that pile of college essay assignments manageable.

Make sure to set aside a little bit of time every day to work on your essay. It’s better to spend 20 minutes on it daily than 10 hours right before it’s due. You’ll find that visiting it every day will help your ideas flow and connect better, give you perspective on what you’ve already written, and reduce the chances of sloppy mistakes.

As for topic selection, instead of trying to brainstorm an essay that matches an existing question from your school of choice, try working backward. Think of a personal experience that moved you or changed you, then tailor that to answer the question. Let’s say you want to write about your experience playing the flute for the first time with a large orchestra. This story answers a lot of possible essay questions: what was a personal activity of special significance, or an accomplishment you are proud of—even an adversity you have dealt with. This one story can be tweaked into the many essays your colleges require.

It’s great to get feedback from a friend or a teacher on a draft you’ve written, but don’t overdo it. A common mistake is an essay written “by committee” – too many people have read it and the writer is trying to please too many different opinions. In the end, you’re left with an essay with all the life sucked out of it. Find one person you trust—preferably not a family member or friend—and let that individual be your sounding board.

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More Tips For Using the Common Application

Common App LogoWe've been running the gamut of issues that can arise while using the Common App this year. Here's another tidbit directly from the Common App themselves - and we should note that at College Essay Organizer, we've run into this one several times this year while working on college admission applications:

Last school forms tip of the week: When you are completing school forms for a student, make sure that you do not have any other Common App account sessions open in other tabs, windows, or browsers. Running multiple sessions concurrently can confuse the system, resulting in lost work when you try to save. For example, if you are a counselor who has created a test applicant account, make sure that you are not logged into that applicant account as you are working on school forms in your own school official account.

This basically means that you shouldn't keep multiple Common App windows open at the same time. It's very easy to try and fix something in one window, then return to a second window and realize that not only is the info from the first window not saved, but the work you've been doing in the second window isn't going to save either, because the Common App site can't figure out which page your account is currently trying to access. It'll probably end up booting you from the system back to the login page.

The moral of the story is to keep everything simple and to-the-point when you're working on your college apps! Slow and steady wins the race.

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Why Do You Want To Attend This College?

The most frequently-asked-about piece of advice at College Essay Organizer revolves around how to tell a school that you want to attend. Surely they're not just looking for you to write about what makes them great, right? They already wrote their own guidebooks. They should know what makes them great.

And you're right. The purpose of these essays is not to talk about them but to talk about you. Your job in all of your college essay writing is to convince the reader that you're an interesting person who belongs in their highly-selective class. You're trying to get them to choose you instead of someone else.

Easier said than done, indeed. So today we direct you to a post written last year that has gotten a lot of traffic: How to tell a college that you're interested.

Always keep in mind that your job is to express what you have that they want. It's already implied that they have what you want - a great education and a raft of opportunities for your future, whatever that may be. Do this by identifying your own intellectual interests and developing them from a personal standpoint.

Common Application Changes Word Count for 2011 Short Essay

Common App LogoJust a few days ago we blogged about the slight disparity in the Common App's word count versus character count limits for the short answer essay requirement. The difference was slight but significant - 150 words (in theory) was actually 750 characters (a hard limit), which meant for the potential of an ugly cut-off if your 150 words happened to be particularly long words.

The Common App has responded to this issue and changed its short answer requirement from 750 characters to 1,000 characters. We have updated our Common App settings at College Essay Organizer and adjusted the Essay RoadMap readouts to reflect this change.

It should also be noted that the Common App did not post an official notice of this fairly crucial change (they've increased the length requirement by a third without saying so!), but College Essay Organizer is on the case as usual.

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State University of New York Essay Questions 2011

State University of New York - SUNY LogoThe SUNY (State University of New York) schools have many specific differences, including certain essay questions, scholarship requirements, and the like. But they share this question in common:

Please provide additional information that will help us better understand your academic performance. You may also explain any chronological gaps in your academic history (e.g. a period of time after high school graduation before applying to college).

At first glance, this question seems like it could be an optional "tell us anything" prompt, or even a required "disciplinary" question, telling you to explain any suspensions, or run-ins with authorities that have disrupted your time in school. At College Essay Organizer, we recommend that anybody without the kind of disciplinary problems or "gaps" in the academic record use this prompt as an opportunity to discuss his or her intellectual interests.

We have discussed the intellectual interest essay here before on the blog, but most importantly, it is the piece of writing that tells the school why you are interested in what they can offer you, and what you bring to the table as a member of the student body. It is a chance to discuss your interests while also implying what you are good at and how you spend your time most effectively. It can be a chance to distinguish yourself from your peers in a unique way, which is something you should always be looking for opportunities to do.

Brown University and the Common App Supplement

Emma Watson Brown University Student

One of these people goes to Brown University. Exciting! You should probably not write your essay about that.

Brown University has always been known for its distinctive academic requirements - distinctive in that it has nearly no traditional academic requirements at all. Brown does not have a core curriculum, and allows students to shape their learning around a required number of credits each semester. As one might expect, a number of Brown's essay requirements address this atypical aspect of the school, one of which goes a little something like this:

"A distinctive feature of the Brown Curriculum is the opportunity to be the 'architect of your education.' Why does this academic environment appeal to you?"

This is another way of asking why you are interested in the school, something we've addressed here on CEO Blog before. When Brown asks you what's so great about leaving your educational requirements for you to choose, what they're really asking is what you are interested in and how you plan to take advantage of the opportunities such an arrangement allows you more than anything you might find in a Brown University promotional pamphlet.

Don't forget that your writing is always about what you can do for the school and its student body, regardless of the question. The implied meaning of all your responses is that you are a desirable candidate, and that you have qualities that set you apart from the thousands of other applicants. So when writing about a school-specific quality, like when addressing this prompt from Brown, make sure that you are identifying your own interests, and detailing how they would come alive in such an environment. Be specific, clear, and assertive and find the spots where their interests are yours, too.

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