Starting the Common Application

You can now roll over your Common App account from year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account, get familiar with the system, and get some of your app work completed.

Create Your Account

There is no preparation required for this step, so you can create your account as early as you’d like. All you’ll need is some basic profile information—like your name, date of birth, address and phone number. And of course, you’ll need to provide a valid email address.

 Note: Your email address will become your username and the Common App’s primary method of sending you updates and reminders, so make sure that you provide an email address that you check on a regular basis (every day).

Gather Your General Application Information

While every school has a different list of college-specific requirements, the general application information (for the Common App) will remain constant for all schools on your list.

You’ll be asked to list your activities, entrance exam scores and exam dates, parent or legal guardian and sibling information, and for some schools your high school grades and courses. Get a head start and save yourself time by collecting this information before you fill out the application.

Specific Requirements

Just like every student is unique, so is every school. We know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. No two schools will have the exact same requirements—so work to understand these requirements early on.

How? The first thing you need to do is read the Application Instructions on each school’s website. Please take the time to read the application instructions in their entirety. On the Common App, you can also check out the Requirements Grid and download the Requirements Tracker worksheet.

Add Schools to Your Dashboard

The Common App presents you with the opportunity to search from more than 700 schools (private, public, large and small), find the ones that meet your needs, and then add them to your My Colleges list—a convenient place to track the work ahead of you.

Once you log in, simply click on the College Search tab to find schools based on their name, location, deadline, or distance from your home.

Note: If you add schools to your Dashboard before the Common App refreshes for the 2019-2020 application year, any data you fill out on the school-specific pages can and most likely will be erased. If you add schools to your Dashboard after the refresh takes place, your information will be saved for the duration of the 2019-2020 application season.

 

For Common App support, join our FB page, Conquer the Common App. Check out the files section to see what an app looks like filled out. Pay special attention to how you can maximize the impact of your Activities section—a section that many students don’t take too seriously!

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

I might be a helicopter parent if…

  • I start a conversation with, “I am not one of those helicopter parents, but…”
  • I read my child’s emails and respond to them.
  • I fill out the visit form for my kid in the admission office lobby.
  • I unintentionally enter my email when I fill out my child’s application.
  • my question during the information session begins with, “My son would like to know if…”
  • my child is only considering universities at least 2000 miles away from me.
  • my child’s Common Application lists his birthdate as 10/21/1972.
  • I would like to see the residence hall I will be staying in.
  • I rub every statue on a college campus for “good luck,” even if it’s not a tradition to do so.
  • I have been banned from contributing to College Confidential.
  • I buy a sticker from every college tour “just in case!”
  • I consider changing my child’s name to something that sounds like the college’s founder.
  • I call colleges when my student is in sixth grade to ask advice on course schedules and extracurriculars.
  • I have accidentally signed my child’s name on a document at work because it’s become a habit.
  • I have any admission office’s phone number saved in my contacts.
  • I text my child a talking point during their interview.
  • I post on Facebook, “We submitted our college applications!”
  • my child’s college essay sounds like it was written by a 45-year-old.
  • I call the admission office pretending to be my child and get their login information for the portal to find out “my” decision.
  • I create a “more important title” for a volunteer group my daughter is on so it sounds better for college applications.
  • I hand out my business cards at the college fair on behalf of my son because he is too busy and couldn’t attend.
  • I am more concerned than my child is about that “dreaded” B-.
  • I hand-write thank you notes to admission officers in obvious dad language and sign it from my son even though no 17-year-old boy writes like that.
  • I ask for advance notice of the admission decisions to “mentally prepare” my child.
  • the phrase, “This is their decision!” is immediately followed by, “But I think they really want…”
  • my child receives an admission decision from a college he didn’t know he applied to.
  • the college counselor recognizes my number…on their cell phone…on Christmas morning.
  • colleges mistakenly address all mailing flyers to me, and not my child.
  • every sentence my child says in college counseling meetings starts with “well, my dad wants me to…”
  • I spend more time on Google Docs working on my child’s college essay than my child does.
  • I have an excel file listing all the people who might write recommendations on my child’s behalf.
  • I’ve directed my child into the extracurricular activities most preferred by elite colleges since they could walk.
  • I show up uninvited to meetings my student has scheduled with their college counselor.
  • I don’t allow my student to take any ownership of their college process.
  • I ask more questions on a campus tour than my student.
  • I compare college lists/decisions at cocktail parties with other parents.
  • I buy a college sweatshirt in my size.

Did you find yourself feeling a little uneasy as you read this list? Did some of these warning signs hit a bit too close to home?

Okay, so some of these are just for fun, but many aren’t a joke. Head to Forbes to read Brennan Barnard’s full article. In it, he provides some thoughtful commentary as well as an amazing reading list, which includes one of my favorites:

Give his article and Lythcott-Haim’s book a read if you have not already!

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

April Action Plan – By Grade

Juniors:

  • If you are still planning to apply to a summer program and have not completed the application, please work on it now. Programs will fill up, so don’t wait to submit apps at the deadline.
  • Many colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources yet, but with a rise in the use of platforms like ZeeMee in college admissions, you may have an interest in creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, personal website, and/or blog). You’ll also want a LinkedIn account up and running when you start college, so now is a good time to get it started.
  • Now is also a good time to do a social media audit. Connecting with colleges on social is a way to demonstrate interest, but only if your profile is squeaky clean. Before you tweet to any of your top schools or like them on FB, follow them on Instagram, etc., review all of your accounts.
  • If you plan to visit schools and interview, prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Continue to prepare for standardized tests and think ahead to AP exams.
  • Update your resume.
Sophomores:
  • Have you thought about what major(s) you will mark on your application? You can only have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps once you know what major(s) you will be marking on them. This is a critical part of the process that should begin to think about now. Even if you don’t know an exact major right now, you should be able to articulate what excites you academically and be pursuing those interests through your coursework and outside of it via clubs and other activities. As you approach 11th grade (and through it), you want to begin to narrow your academic interests and hone in on one or two viable options for your apps.
    • Please note: marking undecided is always an option. However, you still need to talk about specific possible majors if undecided is what you choose. When you look at your resume, does a theme jump out at you?
  • Keeping working hard in your classes. Your academic transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve (upward trend!)!
  • Make a firm plan for preparing for standardized tests and think ahead to AP exams.
  • Also, firm up your summer plans. You should be doing something this summer, and, hopefully, something that helps you explore your academic interests.
  • Continue working on your resume.

Freshmen:

  • Keeping working hard in your classes. Your academic transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve (upward trend!).
  • Firm up your summer plans. You should be doing something this summer, and, hopefully, something that helps you explore your academic interests.
  • Think ahead to preparing for AP exams or subject tets if you plan to take them.
  • Continue working on your resume.

 

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Class of 2023 Regular Decision Notification Dates

College and universities are gearing up to release regular decision results this month and into April. Schools often post results in advance of their “official” notification dates, but with many reporting a record number of applications again this year, we will see.

My favorite college-admissions-related data site, College Kickstart, has compiled the most recently updated dates along with the notification dates from last year, which might help you predict when a school will release early if they do. Bookmark this page, as they post updates often.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

Our Favorite Test Optional Schools

More and more schools are going test-optional—and we love that. More than 220 colleges have de-emphasized the ACT and SAT since 2005, and the list keeps growing. Even uber selective schools like the University of Chicago have dropped standardized testing as a requirement*. Why? As the recent Chronicle of Higher Education ‘Trends on the Horizon‘ report notes:

One reason the list is likely to keep growing: data, data, data. Colleges are using ever more sophisticated statistical analyses to better understand how their students perform. On many campuses, deep dives into enrollment data have helped admissions offices determine which pieces of information they collect from applicants actually help them predict a variety of student outcomes, such as first-year grades and progress toward a degree. Chicago found that ACT and SAT scores didn’t tell it much about who would succeed and who would struggle.

*Always a caveat!!! Although we wholeheartedly support the test-optional movement, we have reason to believe that not all test-optional policies are created equally. Many skeptics of test-optional policies see them as applicable only to certain student groups, for example, students who are disadvantaged in the admission proicess—not middle to upper-class students who have access to test prep and other resources but just don’t “test” well. We have heard through the grapevine that this is the case at quite a few schools. If this is true, it is just one more way that the college admissions process lacks transparency. We are working on finding data that reveals who is admitted without test scores at some of the schools in question (Chicago, Wake Forest, Bowdoin, Wesleyan) but it is not readily available.

Anyway, we want to shoutout a few of the test-optional schools that we have found to be genuinely test-optional, and where we have students who are thriving both inside and outside of the classroom. They are:

  • Pitzer College
  • Drew University
  • George Washington University
  • The University of Arizona
  • Whittier College
  • University of Delaware
  • New School

For a comprehensive list of top-tier schools that are test-optional, and to stay up to date on the test-optional movement, head to FairTest.org.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

 

Mid Year Report Reminder

Mid Year Reports should be submitted as soon as possible after first semester or trimester grades are available. Your counselor will be asked to provide information like your class rank, some details about GPA, and to provide an updated transcript.

The Common App recommendation system doesn’t send your counselor a reminder to complete this form. It is your responsibility to keep track of this requirement and ensure that the form is completed.

Once you have applied, many schools “portals” will note if you need to provide the mid-year report. You can also check on each schools website, as well as consult this list.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Make sure you sent official test scores if required. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Meet with your school counselor and triple check that all early app materials were sent. Share your RD/ED II list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.
  • Work on your “interest letter” for your top choice school (or schools!) if you have decided to write one.
  • If you’re applying regular decision (RD) to colleges (or have an ED II school in the mix), you should continue to make progress on your essays in case your early applications are denied or deferred in December. It is very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1, and…
  • It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD/ED II deadlines as some schools have early RD deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration. Aim to submit all RD/ED II apps by 12/1 for merit consideration, and by 12/21 otherwise.
  • Prepare for interviews! Read our post here for more insight and prep questions.

Juniors:

  • It is test prep time! Get a plan in place and stick to it.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. They will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year. Let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college. Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how your activities support this interest. If you are unsure about your major, keep exploring options. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school.
  • Visit colleges in person! Fall is a great time to visit colleges. Please note, there are not many students on college campuses during December/January, so plan accordingly.
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, put a note on your calendar to check websites for application deadlines and application releases.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • Have you started your resume/activity sheet? If not, now is a great time to begin drafting it.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Are there any that have you thinking about possible fields of study (major/minor) in college? Start to take note of what you like and dislike, where you do well and where you are having difficulty.
  • Beyond academics, colleges also look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities. You don’t need to join every single club at school (that is a bad idea, actually, please do not do this!), but if you are not involved in any ECs in or out of school, now is the time to get involved. You want to take part in a few things and try to continue with those activities (if you enjoy them) throughout your high school career. One definite “must” is something that allows you to serve others and give back to your community. 
  • One of the biggest factors in strong performance on the verbal portions of the SAT and the ACT is independent reading. Enhancing your skills during high school will not only help you perform better on college entrance exams but also prepare you for success in college and beyond. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g., New York TimesWall Street JournalThe Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have an impact.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

You’ve Submitted Your Early Applications – Now What?

Congrats! Getting your early applications submitted is a huge accomplishment. Hopefully, you can take a weekend or two off from college application work and relax a bit. However, don’t relax too much or completely stop where you are! There’s plenty that can be done after you’ve pressed submit.

  • Continue to work on application materials (essays). Many schools require submission of RD apps by 12/1 for merit award consideration. Please plan to submit apps by 12/1 if the schools on your list fall into this category (you can find out by looking on their admission website). Some schools where this is the case include BU, USC, Wake, Vandy, UConn, and Richmond. College Kickstart also has a list here.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track them online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (every day), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Prepare for interviews. Read my post on interview prep here, and start to practice with a teacher, friend, counselor, or family member.
  • Write an “interest” letter. This letter should fill in any gaps and or address things that you were not able to address in your application. This can be very helpful if a school has no supplemental essays. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two on academics if the school did not ask for a “why school” essay.
    2. A paragraph or two on extracurriculars if you were not able to cover these interests in much detail (or at all) in your application. Convey how you plan to contribute to the school via one or two important EC commitments.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the ways you have connected with and continue to get to know the school. This could include campus visits, setting up an informational interview with a local alum/a current student, or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter. This is also a given if you are applying ED.

Don’t forget: your grades are also very important! Do your best to maintain your grades/GPA; some schools will ask for midterm grade reports (or even call your counselor to check in on your progress!), and you want them to show consistency or an upward trend, not a downward trend.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

How the Harvard Case Highlights What All College Applicants Need to Know

Each summer, Harvard’s Admissions Office profiles a handful of previous applicants in a “casebook” and distributes it to employees. The book is meant to teach staffers how to evaluate candidates. For each applicant, the document details the bullet-pointed factors that rendered the applicant “appealing” and the traits that gave Harvard “pause.” It also provides the outcome for each student.

A recent Crimson article shines a light on some of what came from the casework exploration, none of which comes as much of a surprise to someone in my role. I want to share some of what the Crimson article highlights, but also point out that these findings are not solely applicable to Harvard applicants. Any student applying to a selective college or university should consider these findings because they hold true across many schools.

A clear and impressive academic performance and talent: 

“But stories of successful applicants prove a common truth: Harvard admissions officers are looking for academic superstars who have overcome adversity in their personal lives* and can offer a clear vision of what they would accomplish in Cambridge.

Smarts reigned supreme. In nine of the 11 cases, admissions officers pointed to strong academic performance as a compelling reason for admission. The word “bright” appears eight times in the document.”

*Overcoming adversity plays out in so many different ways. Many applicants have not experienced hardships related to their living conditions, family finances, etc.—but no one’s life is perfect. Everyone has experienced personal failure and moments of weakness and vulnerability. A student’s willingness to dig deep and have the confidence to present these moments is one way to overcome the “hardship” gap if they have not navigated a more traditional hardship.

An extracurricular “niche” (which could be related to the academic narrative):

“While a strong overall candidate, Evelyn [Satmar]’s credentials are not unusual in our applicant pool,” the document reads.

Admissions officers also took note of activities outside the classroom. Reviewers mentioned that at least three candidates failed to find an “extracurricular niche” in high school.

“While the package is appealing, the case lacks the ‘hook’ provided by a special academic or extracurricular talent,” officers wrote of Mandisi.”

And likeability (charisma and lack of ego!):

“Grace was a “strong student” in high school, but nothing exceptional. One reviewer noted her test scores “suggest she won’t be a top engineering student at Harvard” — and predicted she “will have to work hard here.”

However…. “Grace’s teachers, guidance counselor, and alumni interviewer describe her in terms we rarely read,” the document states. “A true ‘1 personal’ — one of the few we see each year.”

And what about “pause” factors reasons—reasons to deny an application. There are plenty of those, but here are a few that are overwhelmingly true at all schools, not just Harvard:

“The document lists “pause factors” for each candidate. These more problematic traits — including less impressive grades, uninspiring extracurriculars, and excessive braggadocio — spurred lengthy deliberations in the Admissions Office, waitlist placements, and calls to a plethora of teachers and counselors.

For other applicants, admissions officers raised more personal concerns — many related to ego.”

Two candidates’ pause factors included “arrogance.” One was placed on the waitlist and never accepted; the other admitted to Harvard only “after many hours of debate.

Admissions officers particularly pondered whether high schoolers’ hubris would hurt them at Harvard — wondering whether applicants could successfully trade standout status for relative anonymity among hundreds of star students.

“What will his transition be like — from big fish in small pond to Harvard — and how will Sergei interact with roommates, classmates, and administrators?” one reviewer wrote.”

You do not need to be applying to Harvard to reap the benefits of these takeaways! We’ve been encouraging applicants to consider these things for as long as we’ve been doing this:

-Perform well in school and on standardized tests. This is the #1 factor. If you don’t have this…the rest is going to matter very little at top schools (unless you are a recruited athlete).

-Develop an academic narrative; even if you have a few interests, dive into them and go above and beyond in pursuing them. Just “doing school” is not very compelling. Get out there and do something!

-Find an extracurricular niche. It might be what you do to go above and beyond regarding your academic interests, or it might be something else completely. Either way, the most interesting candidates have a life outside of school and their excellent grades and test scores. Bonus if this niche is outside of the norm (think deck hockey or urban gardening instead of Model UN or piano).

-Lose the ego. You might be #1 in your class, have tons of leadership roles, and basically be #thebest, but that will all change in college. You are going to be the norm and you will need to adjust to that very quickly. Show some humility and foresight. Arrogance is the absolute most cringe-worthy part of so many college applications! Remove all traces of it (you might need someone to help with this).

Read the full Crimson article here.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*

 

Building a College List? Look Beyond Rankings

Not a news flash: Getting into the country’s most selective colleges is more fiercely competitive than ever, with many schools reporting a record number of applicants (again). To many, this news is fear-inducing. How will I (or my child) possibly get admitted to a “top” college or university? Answering how is hard. There are no silver bullets in this process, and the reality is most applicants won’t get admitted to the top-top schools. Instead of trying (too hard in many cases) to become the applicant you think one of these uber selective schools will admit, I suggest a path of far less resistance and more authenticty—a path that includes looking at colleges where you have a realistic chance of being admitted.

There are schools outside of the top 30 ranked on US News, and they are excellent. We help families find these schools, and we’ve seen that when they can think outside of the box, they end up with incredible options and look back on the process much more fondly than those that are laser-focused on the same set of schools at which the rest of the world is aiming.

Here are some numbers from an earlier Boston Globe article noting the 20-year admit rate changes at a few of the country’s most popular schools. I’ve been saying this for a few years now, but it is time to start looking outside of the bubble of these and the other “most popular” schools, and these numbers should provide a nudge in doing so. Interested in looking into amazing schools that don’t often find themselves on the most popular list? Check out College That Change Lives as well as this list I have compiled.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*