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Common App Knowledge Promotes Admissions Advantage

Students who understand the Common Application before applying to college can gain an edge in the admissions process. Knowing the specific information colleges ask for can help students plan more effectively for recommendations, high school activities and coursework, and a lot more.

The Common Application Guide for First Time Applicants is an excellent overview and planning tool with information on all aspects of the process.

Familiarity with the Common Application’s Teacher Evaluation Form can help students plan for solid teacher recommendations. Many competitive schools require recommendations from two core subject teachers. Understanding the form’s rating system and knowing what information is requested can be invaluable.

The School Report and Counselor Recommendation are designed to provide colleges with information about the applicant and educational context. Knowledge of both forms can be enormously helpful when planning curriculum selection and developing rapport with the school counselor.

Many colleges require a Mid-Year Report (with the first semester or trimester grades) for applicants. Like the School Report, it is submitted by the applicant’s high school. The Final Report includes completion of coursework, final grades, and confirmation of graduation. The applicant’s high school typically provides this document following graduation. Some colleges request or allow for an Optional Report, which can provide quarter or partial-year grades or an updated curriculum.

The Activities Section is an area of the Common Application that many applicants do not fully understand. This section provides the opportunity to describe specific examples of extracurricular achievement, volunteer service, talent, interests, and other involvement during high school. According to Common Application, activities may include arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, and other pursuits. The Common App designates categories of activities (e.g., art, athletics, community service, debate/speech, robotics, research, employment) and allows for up to 10 activities. For each activity entry, the Common App sets character limits as follows:

  • Position/Leadership description: 50 characters
  • Organization name: 100 characters
  • Activity description, including accomplishments and recognition: 150 characters
    Since space is limited for each activity, verbiage should be well crafted to describe the activity with maximum impact. The activities section also requests the following information for each activity:

Activity type
Participation grade levels (9, 10, 11, 12, post-graduate)
Timing of participation (during the school year, during school break, all year)
Hours spent per week
Weeks spent per year
Intent (yes/no) to participate in a similar activity in college
This Common Application Activity Section Summary Chart provides a helpful reference. Given the character limitations for the various activity information fields, it is advantageous for students to compile activity information outside of the Common Application in a document or spreadsheet where characters can be counted, and spelling can be checked.


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