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Applying | The Common Application | August 2012

The Common Application: Breaking It Down, Part 2

By Taylor Cotter |

The Common Application, or Common App, was released August 1 for students applying to college for 2013. With almost 500 colleges and universities accepting the Common Application this year, it's almost guaranteed that high school seniors will have to take the time to fill it out. We dissected the 2012-13 Common Application and determined which sections students should focus on most. Note: Pictured are images from the paper Common Application, but it is recommended that students use the online version.

Part V: Education (Important)

It’s likely that your guidance counselor or college counselor will give you the most accurate and up-to-date information for this section.  If you attended more than one high school, make sure to call your former counselor and have the accurate CEEB/ACT code and address.

Part VI: Academics (Very Important)Part VI: Academics (Very Important)

According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the most important part of your college application are your grades in college prep courses. This is manifested in your GPA and class rank. In this section, give the most accurate information possible. Don’t round-up your GPA and don’t put what you “think” your GPA will be after the semester ends. The colleges will collect all that information in your official transcripts. This self-disclosed information is double-checked with the information submitted by your school. By doing this, you protect against a typo (on either your part, or the school’s part) and provide a way to ensure this information is accurate.


  •  Get information about your class rank and GPA from your guidance counselor. They can explain the scale and how GPAs are weighted. You don’t want to guess here!
  • SAT and AP scores can be obtained from The College Board
  • Use the real names of your courses (“United States History” vs. “History”) and only mark courses as AP if they are an approved AP course.

Part VII: Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience (Very Important)Part VII: Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience (Very Important)

Even though you probably created an activities resume, the Common Application has another check-and-balance to make sure that you didn’t make any mistakes. Additionally, this part of the Common Application allows you to order your activities by what was most important to you, while a resume typically orders activities chronologically.


  •  Be honest! This is part of the Common Application where you can show who you are. Maybe you spent most of your time on a varsity sports team, but loved when you did volunteer work. List that first – it will give them a better idea of who you are and what you value!
  • Round your hours per week. If you did something sporadically throughout the year, just list the approximate number of hours per week. Colleges won’t differentiate between three hours per week and two hours and 45 minutes per week.

Part VIII: Writing (Very Important)Part VIII: Writing (Very Important)

Colleges heavily weigh your writing skills and ability in your admissions decision, since it is a key indicator of how well you will perform in college. Unless you are very comfortable writing by hand, it is better for you and the admissions officers to use a computer to write your essays, especially if you complete your application online.

When elaborating on one of your activities, stress the things that being in this activity taught you. Sure, maybe you loved one of your clubs because you got to spend time with your friends. However, did you learn leadership skills? Team-building activities? Creative problem solving? A quick hint: colleges don’t particularly care what these activities are, they just want to know how it will make you a better student for their school.

The biggest hint for your personal essay is to take your time. Work with your English teachers and have them read over your essay. Send it to friends, family, and anyone else who is willing to honestly critique your work. Your essay should be a meaningful topic that shows a school why you will be a great part of their community, as well as technically perfect to exemplify your attention to detail and drive to be a good student.


  • Use spell-check, and have others check your spelling
  • Take the advice of your English teacher while writing your essay – they have seen hundreds!
  • If you can’t think of a topic, try writing about a book, film, or other piece of media that has influenced you and your chosen field of study.
  • Don’t go too short or too long – your essay should be between the 250 and 500 word limit. If it’s too long, start cutting.

Miss Part 1? Check it out here.

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