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3-Step Checklist for Wrapping Up the Common App

So you’re finally wrapping up the Common App—you’ve created your account, chosen colleges to apply for, filled out your profile, chosen and notified your recommenders, drafted your essay(s), and fretted over a million tiny details. But don’t hit that submit button just yet! In this article, we’ll go over a few last-minute tweaks to take your Common App to the next level.

1)     Personality Check

College admissions panels have their work cut out for them as they review thousands of applications each year. At some point, many of these seem to blend together, since many college applicants look pretty much the same on paper, having completed similar coursework and participated in a fairly limited set of extracurricular activities. Don’t get me wrong: it’s very important to show your well-roundedness in order to be a competitive applicant. But as you review your application, look for ways to show off your personality and passion, painting as clear of a self-portrait as possible. For example, when asked about your planned program of study, answering “undecided” doesn’t do you any favors (even if it’s the truth). Take every opportunity to show off your personality; spice it up a little!

2)     Edit That Essay

If you’re like me, you’ve probably written countless drafts of your essay, desperately trying to come across as unique, creative, and intelligent. As you review your work, remember that a college application essay is very different from an academic essay that you write in school. Whereas in an academic essay you are trying to suppress your individual voice in order to clearly present facts or logical arguments, the primary objective of the Common App essay is to provide insight into its author. Make sure you can find the “you” in your essay, no matter which prompt you’ve chosen. Although you may have similar experiences to other applicants, no one else has your distinctive voice, perspective, or ideas.

Feeling stuck? Skim through your essay and highlight the elements of “you”—your analysis of a situation, your passions and interests, your personality shining through. If there’s not enough “you”, it’s time to edit and personalize. Bottom line, your Common App essay is one that only you could have written.

3)      Review College-Specific Criteria

In addition to the general requirements of the Common App, many schools also include their own supplemental questions, which can range from generic (i.e. “Why are you interested in X University?”) to something as fun as “Which Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor best describes you?”. The same principles apply here as to your primary Common App essay—before finalizing, make sure that what you have written is representative of you as an individual.

A note on “optional” questions: leave nothing blank! Even if a question is technically optional, every single answer field presents an opportunity to share another aspect of yourself.

You’ve probably noticed a theme here: you! So often, applicants get hung up on what they think college admissions panels want to hear. Unfortunately, many fall short and submit generic and therefore forgettable applications. Your goal in this process is to walk a fine line, demonstrating both your individuality and your ability to fit into the incoming freshman class. 

Once your Common App is completed, edited, and well-seasoned with “you”, you’re ready to submit! It’s time to pay your fees, sit back, and wait with bated breath. Congratulations, and good luck!

Want a pair of expert eyes to review your essays and applications? Learn more about our College Advising services, and contact us to learn more!


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