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Applying | The Common Application | August 2012

The Common Application: Breaking It Down, Part 1

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 I: About You (Very Important)Part I: About You (Very Important)

The first part of the Common Application is fairly self-explanatory. This is your basic contact information so colleges can easily contact you about the state of your application. However, just because this part is the easiest doesn’t mean you should spend less time on it: even one mistake on the first part of the Common Application could ruin your entire application process.


  • Don’t use a nickname or any alternative version of your name. Use your formal, legal name on every college application document.
  • Write your complete middle name, even if you don’t use it. This will distinguish you from applicants with the same first and last names.
  • Make sure your social security number is correct. Even if you have it memorized, check on your social security card.
  • Use an e-mail address that you check often. This may be a great time to create a professional email address for college correspondents.
  • If your IM address is inappropriate or you don’t actively use it, feel free to skip that line. It would be used for colleges that may have chats with incoming students.

Part II: Future Plans (Somewhat Important)Part II: Future Plans (Somewhat Important)

This section varies depending on which colleges you choose to apply. Some colleges determine acceptance based on ability to pay, as well as determining what value you will add to the school after graduation. If you are unsure about any of these answers, just try to be as honest as possible.


  • Try not to skip anything. If you’re not sure of your career interest, just write “unsure,” or choose a field close to what you might want to study. You aren’t held to what you write.
  • If you don’t know the highest degree you intend to earn – don’t worry! Not many people do. If you’re applying to a four-year school, “bachelor’s degree” is a safe choice.
  • If you’re not sure on any of the yes/no questions, it is better to err on the side of “yes.”
  • If this section doesn’t appear on your online application, not to worry. It is only relevant for a small sampling of schools.

Part III: Demographics (Not Very Important)Part III: Demographics (Not Very Important)

It’s no secret that colleges accept students to fit certain demographic standards. Affirmative action laws and policies vary by state, so you may want to look into the specific regulations for the colleges to which you’re applying. If you feel as though your demographic information will be helpful in your college app, or you plan to address it in your essay or somewhere else in the application process, it is best to fill this section out honestly and completely. Most of this section is optional, so if you feel as though it won’t be important in your application process, just skip it.


  • Don’t lie! If a college finds out that you don’t actually fall into the demographics that you said, they can rescind your acceptance, or you can get in even bigger trouble.
  • Affirmative action and demographics don’t make as much of a difference as you would think. Colleges often accept the students that they want to accept, and then offer varying financial aid packages to meet their demographic standards.

Part IV: Family (Somewhat Important)Part IV: Family (Somewhat Important)

Colleges collect information about your family for several reasons. They want to know if you are a first-generation college student, they want to know if you have parents or siblings that attending their school, and they want to collect demographic information about their applicants. Even though you should do the Common Application on your own, this is the part where you want to sit down with your mom or dad and do it together. CEEB codes can be found here.


  • Be as accurate as possible with this information, since colleges may use it to award financial aid or scholarships later.
For more, check out Part 2!

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