Everything You Need to Know About the Common Application

Everything You Need to Know About the Common Application | The Red Pen

Part 1 of a 4-part series

If you have your heart set on pursuing your undergraduate studies in the US, then you will need to fill out the Common Application form. Nearly 1,000 colleges and universities use the Common Application form to collect your details, easing the tedious process of filling out separate forms.

How do I start filling out my Common Application form?

The first step in filling out your Common Application form is to create an account here. As the Common Application rolls over, you can start entering your details while still in grade 11 and complete it later. The general sections of the form cover your academic history and extracurricular activities, along with your other accomplishments from grade 9 to 12. On August 1 every year, member colleges go live with their individual requirements, which include essays and questions specific to the college. To get access to these additional questions, you need to shortlist the colleges to which you want to apply. To make an informed decision, make sure you research the colleges you want to select. There are many ways to do this: In-person visits, virtual tours on the college website, reading specific department pages and following colleges on social media.

What are the four basic components of the Common Application

1) Profile:

Your profile is where you indicate the classes you are taking, your demographic information, school information and information related to your family. You will also have to enter your standardised testing scores. Remember to either take the SAT or the ACT and not both. Much of the information required in this section is self-explanatory, but be sure to enter it in a way that is concise and clear to an international audience.

2) Activities and honours:

Colleges in the US love students who are engaged in extracurricular activities and take initiative beyond academics. This space allows you to demonstrate your involvement and resourcefulness. List everything that you have done outside the classroom between grades 9 and 12, including leadership activities, sports, community service, art projects or anything else in which you have participated. Avoid using acronyms for festivals and conferences and ensure that everything is comprehensible by non-Indian readers.

3) Writing:

This is the thought-provoking part of the Common Application and will take up significant time. Through the Common Application essay, you can give the admissions officer insight into the kind of person you are, your passions or certain aspects of your life that are integral to who you are–something a grade sheet will not be able to reflect. Additionally, you will have to write supplemental essays depending on the colleges you shortlist. These topics can range from ‘Why you would like to study in a particular college?’ to ‘What failures you have faced in your life?’ and more.

4) Recommendation and FERPA:

Finally, you need to include letters of recommendation. Usually, three recommendations are requested, of which two are from teachers who have taught you in grades 11 and 12 and one from your school counsellor. These letters of recommendation help the admissions officer understand you from the perspective of a person who has taught you and observed your performance and growth over the years, both within and outside the classroom.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 requires that students be advised of their rights concerning educational records, such as letters of recommendation. While you are free to respond as you wish, if you choose not to waive your right, some recommenders may decline your request and some colleges may disregard letters submitted on your behalf. In other words, FERPA gives you the right to inspect recommendations before they are sent to your colleges.

Though creating the Common Application account is free, every college charges its own application processing fee. The application deadline depends on whether you are applying for Early Decision (typically November 1) or a regular decision, which is typically on January 1.

There are various resources on the Common Application website that make the application process easier. For more information about colleges in the US, schedule a one-on-one meeting with one of our experts. If you would like more guidance with the process, get in touch with us.

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