application is 5 pages long, with several distinct sections described
EDUCATIONAL, FAMILY, TESTING INFORMATION
first 4 pages of the Common Application require information you can
usually answer off the top of your head, but you also have to know a
few special things.
Social Security Number
Your high school’s address and zip code
Your high school's CEEB
(College Board) or ACT
code and zip code
The month and year you started high school
Your high school counselor’s full name and position, telephone,
and fax number
Parent information (degrees, universities attended, dates of attendance,
you get started on the Common Application, do your best to remember
all your significant achievements and activities. Keep certificates,
awards, and other documentation of your accomplishments, both academic
and extra-curricular. Ask your parents to help you remember forgotten
In this section, list all significant academic honors and awards beginning
with ninth grade. Examples of such honors are: Honor Roll, AP Scholar,
National Merit Commended Scholar, High School Scholar-Athlete Award,
National Latin Exam Silver Medal, National Honor Society Member, Student
Bio-Tech Expo Finalist, Seattle Public Library Writing Contest Winner,
National Young Leadership Conference attendee, etc. You may also include
your AP grades here.
the name of the award, date received, and a brief description if it
is not a well-known honor. Do not include honors and awards received
prior to 9th grade. If your school does not award any academic honors
until late in the senior year, you may say so in this space.
the Activities Chart on Page 4, list activities (including summer
activities) in order of their depth and importance. Provide details
to explain the nature of your participation. Space is limited, so
you will have to be careful in your choice of words, and clever in
your use of abbreviations.
stock descriptions and try for unique phrasing instead. For example,
instead of providing a dry label for your position (“hospital
volunteer”) tell what you accomplished (“organized hospital
often have difficulty estimating the hours per week or weeks per year
spent on each activity. Sometimes participation varies a great deal
over the course of the year, or an activity is short-lived but very
intense. Just do the best you can, and as long as you are honest and
do not overstate the total hours of your participation, you will be
Do not worry if you cannot fill all the rows. Colleges would rather
see students commit to a few activities in depth than dabble in a
bunch of different activities.
the instructions on the Common Application emphasize, even if you
plan to attach a resume, you should fill out the Activities Chart
as completely and effectively as you can. If you submit your application
online, you will need to mail in your resume. You can also upload
it in the Additional Information section of the online Common Application.
This section asks you to list significant jobs in reverse chronological
order. Not every student will have an entry for all three rows. Students
often have little paid work experience, so do not worry if this section
is not very full.
The first prompt on the writing page, the Short Answer, asks you to
elaborate briefly on one of your activities. You should talk about
the the depth and duration of your participation and what you have
gained from it. Take advantage of this additional opportunity to showcase
excellent writing skills, and present yourself as a real person who
is more than a list of activities, a GPA, and some test scores!
The Short Answer
is limited to exactly 1000 characters and spaces, or about 150 words.
Just make sure that when you print/preview your application, the “Short
Answer” fits into the space provided. Make every word count!
Do not write a generic description of an activity and lessons learned.
This is the first piece of your writing admissions officers will see.
Make it interesting and memorable, and as personal and experiential
The online Common Application asks you to write an essay of at least
250 words on one of several topics. Whereas most of the information
you supply to colleges is crammed into tables that are too small,
entered in tiny boxes one letter at a time, mailed from testing companies,
or written by others, the personal statement provides an opportunity
to speak with your own voice about something that is important to
you. If you apply online, there is no specified word limit, but I
would recommend an essay that fits on one page, single-spaced (to
conserve paper), Times Roman, size 12 font. You upload it as
a Word document into your online application.
You can start writing your personal statement your junior year. It’s
the one part of the application that is the most difficult to do in
a hurry, yet it is also the task students are most likely to put off
until later. Experience shows that having a good, solid version by
the time you finish your junior year makes the application process
much easier when fall comes.
Do you have to know what schools you are applying to before you start
writing? Not at all, because you will probably use the Common Application
to apply to one or more schools, and the Common Application topics
are general enough to be used for many non-Common applications as
well. The Common Application lists the following 6 choices.
Evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has special
meaning to you.
2. Discuss an issue of personal, local, national, or international
concern and its importance to you.
3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you,
and describe that influence.
4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative
work (in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on
you and explain that influence.
A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences
adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background,
describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to
the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated
the importance of diversity to you.
6. Topic of your choice.
you can see, these topics are general, and with the inclusion of “Topic
of your choice,” virtually any subject you want to write about
is fair game. Get online to preview the essay choices on the non-Common
applications of specific colleges of interest. You may be surprised
to learn how much overlap exists among topics from different colleges.
Some selective colleges pride themselves on their creative and unusual
topics, like “How do you feel about Wednesday?” or “If
you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk?”
Thankfully, these are the exceptions.
You will benefit in the long run if you think carefully about the
subject of your personal statement before you start writing. It is
not unusual for students to throw away their first attempt, but this
is more often due to poor writing than to a poor choice of topic.
have to use this to explain a weakness or a problem, but others can
use it to present additional personal qualifications or relevant experience.
In either case, use the space to create a positive and affirmative
case for your readiness for college. This information can be either
entered into a sizeable text field, or uploaded as a Word document.
With the Additional Information option, you can:
- explain a blemish
in your school record, and what you learned from it (it is best
if your account is backed up by the counselor).
- talk about
a learning disability that has affected your academic or test performance.
Do not send diagnostic test results, but do talk openly about the
general nature of your disability and the ways you have learned
to succeed in spite of it. (If you can, research or visit the learning
support center for the college, and talk about the ways you plan
to utilize this important resource.)
- explain unusual
circumstances (study abroad or community college during high school),
and how they have enhanced your readiness for college.
- talk about
a well-defined academic interest and your plan for pursuing it in
- write in some
depth about an additional activity of importance to you, especially
if it relates to planned studies in college.
- upload a resume.
This can take the form of a standard academic resume, or a set of
thumbnail descriptions of several significant activities, including
what you have learned from them.
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