Here it is, Seniors, the Insider’s Guide to Cracking the New Common App 2013 (CAv4), complete with explanations (not funny ones) and tips (also not funny). This online beast is a teenage rite of passage, so congrats to you for being a Senior, and woohoo, let’s tackle that Common App.
1. Log into www.commonapp.org (.ORG, not .com. Those .com guys finally took down their bizarre site that was driving kids crazy for years, but now the .com site is just a blank page in cyberspace that you can’t get to. Go ahead, try, and then go to .org and get started.)
2. Create an account and write down your username and password somewhere safe. (Please write it down, or text it to your aunt; I’m already crying from the frustration you losing this info causes.)
3. Click on College Search. If you don’t know your schools you can use the Search tool; if you do know your list of schools, you can just enter the names. Select the college from the Result List and then click Add. Click Result List, then click Criteria to add another school. (Not slick.)
4. Once you have added all of the colleges you like (personal plea: please apply to just 8!), click Dashboard and you will see your colleges in all their glory listed right there.
5. Click My Colleges. The first college in the list will be open. You will see 4 things under each school: Questions, Assign Recommenders, Submission, and Writing Supplement. (Why Submission isn’t listed last is beyond me, because it’s certainly the last thing you want to do.)
6. Don’t start the Questions yet, but you can glance at them. Instead, click Writing Supplement and work on creating your “Master List of Writing Prompts” (that’s my survival term, coined for you) by copying/pasting each prompt for this college, AND its word or character limit, onto a word doc so you know exactly what essays you need to write, how long or short they must be, and which ones overlap and can be reused. Do not compose your essays in the Common App. You will compose and edit your essays on a word doc, because you are wise. Do this for all of your schools.
7. I know you’ll want to poke around in the Common App for a while, so go ahead, but don’t spend hours right now filling in all the questions (#procrastination) because what you really need to do first is start every rough draft of every little essay you need to do—there might be 15! Filling in Common App data is easy and starting rough drafts is difficult, so do the drafts first—before homework and sports start to hit. Trust me, kid.
8. After you have created your “Master List of Prompts” and determined which essays can be recycled, and after you have started all rough drafts, THEN you can fill out the Questions section for each college or you can fill out the Common App section (tab 3 at the top). I would probably fill out the Common App, so let’s click that.
9. Common App: This section is pretty straightforward. Items with a red asterisk are required. Enter the data and you can click Continue or just click on the next section; it auto saves (nice). The little green checks appear in places where that section is technically done—but this is NOT exactly true from your standpoint! The checks mean that the section is either complete (by you) or that the data isn’t required in order for you to submit the Common App. I suggest you fill in the Activities section, which isn’t required and gives you a misleading little green check; it would certainly be HORRIBLE for you to leave the Activities section blank. Really, horrible. Your peers are not going to leave this section blank, so neither should you. (Don’t show up to someone’s house empty-handed, and don’t show up on a college application as a kid who did nothing for 4 years. We can talk about special situations later.)
10. Submitting: When the Common App section has 6 green checkmarks, and when a college in the My Colleges section has 3 checkmarks (for Questions, Assign Recs, and Writing Supp) THEN you are ready to click “Submission – Common App” for that college. You will submit your applications one at a time, when each college is ready. You will need to complete the 6 sections of the Common App before you can submit the first college application, but (it is my understanding) that you can go back and edit your Common App for future schools after you submit it to a college.
For today, on August 1st, 2013, the Writing Supplements and specific college Questions sections aren’t up just yet, but I’m sure they will be soon. Hats off to the computer software engineers behind this colossal effort. I’m sure those guys didn’t sleep a wink last night, and if any of you kids wants to talk about a growing job field where the US really needs talent, let’s talk you majoring in Computer Science! For now, happy Common App’ing, and don’t be late to your next period class.