Update: Read the latest tips for the 2017-18 Common App.
Welcome back! For those of you who have already begun the process of completing your Common App, I hope you’re not encountering too many difficulties. Just think, in a few months, your college application will be finished and in the hands of dedicated admissions officers who will be hard at work, crafting the Class of 2019! But for now, let’s get back to the nuts and bolts of completing your Common App.
Common App: Testing Page
Tests Taken: We received so many questions from students regarding this section of the application last year. Students who were planning on utilizing Score Choice were reluctant to complete this section as they were worried it might “look bad” if it was left it blank. Other students wanted to report just ACT scores (and not SAT scores), but were concerned colleges might accuse them of not truthfully answering the question. If you read the directions carefully, you’ll note that the Common App instructs students to “indicate all tests you wish to report.” This means that students who want to self-report some test scores (and omit others) are ethically allowed to do so. While leaving the entire “Tests Taken” section blank is a perfectly acceptable option (and one I often encourage my students to do), rest assured that you can pick and choose to self-report whichever tests scores are the best for you. If you’ve taken the SATs twice, for example, and you want to report the Critical Reading score from the May test, and the Math and Writing scores from the June test, this is easy to do. Just keep in mind that if you’ve taken the SAT four times, you do technically have to disclose that when the Common App asks, “Number of times you have already taken the SAT.”
Common App: Activities Page
There is room to list 10 extracurricular activities on this page of the application, and we recommend that you try and complete this section as fully as possible. While you don’t need to list all 10 activities to stand out, including just one or two can give the impression that you weren’t very involved in high school (and, by extension, you may not be very involved in college). One quick tip: be sure to list the name of the activity/club/organization you’re involved in on the “Position/Leadership description” line. As an admissions officer, I remember seeing students type in “Vice President,” but I’d have no idea what club they were VP of!
For more résumé tips, visit our Common App blog (part 1 and part 2) from last year.
Common App: Writing Page
Personal Essay: The tech gurus over at the Common App heard our pleas! All of last year’s formatting issues seem to be gone. Students can now indent their paragraphs (using the spacebar, not the tab key) and format text with italics, bold font, and underlines at will. The word count feature seems to be working properly, too, so there’s no need to hyperventilate about disappearing text!
For suggestions on choosing the best essay topic for your Common App, take a look at our post on the College Coach blog.
Congrats! You’re in the final stretch. All that remains are school-specific supplements. Sounds manageable, right? Stay tuned to learn about a little secret we discovered regarding supplemental essays. You’re not going to want to miss this!
For all of our Common App 2014-15 tips, be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series:
For updated tips for the 2015-16 Common Application, take a look at our latest posts:
Essays Students Can Get Started on Before Aug. 1 Open of Common Application
As the summer begins to wind down, and the college application season starts up, many colleges and universities across the US have released their essay prompts for the 2014-15 application season, allowing students the opportunity to get a head start.
Some applications are already open, including the Universal College Application, which includes member schools like Harvard, Princeton, UChicago, and Johns Hopkins, to name a few.
For those who are applying to schools that have prompts and applications readily available, it’s important to get a head start.
Here are some of the essays and applications available now, including the 2014-15 Common Application essay prompts.
The Common Application
Limit of 650 words.
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Universal College Application
Please write an essay (500 words or fewer) that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include: a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.
Engineering: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (No more than 150 words.)
Arts & Sciences:If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (No more than 150 words.)
Optional Essays for All Applicants:
Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.
Duke will learn about your extracurricular involvement through the Activities section of the Common or Universal College Application. If you wish to include a brief resume you may include it here.
All Applicants (Short): In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
All Applicants: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
Applicants to the McDonough School of Business: Discuss the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying business
Applicants to the Walsh School of Foreign Service: Brieﬂy discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
Applicants to the School of Nursing and Health Studies: Describe the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying health care. Please speciﬁcally address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
Applicants to Georgetown College: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please speciﬁcally address those interests.)
Candidates respond to all three essay topics. (250 word limit for each essay.)
Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
What matters to you, and why?
University of Chicago
What's so odd about odd numbers?
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness". In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
Little pigs, french hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!)
A neon installation by the artist Jeppe Hein in UChicago’s Charles M. Harper Center asks this question for us: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” (There are many potential values of "here", but we already know you're "here" to apply to the University of Chicago; pick any "here" besides that one).
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.
University of Michigan
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.)
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Choose one prompt and respond in an essay of 400-500 words.
Why do you do what you do?
You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.
What one thing should all students know before their high school graduation?
What concerns you about your world? What do you hope to do to make it better?
UNC Professor Barbara Fredrickson – an expert in positive emotions – has defined love as “micro-moments of connection between people, even strangers.” Tell us about a time when you experienced a “micro-moment of connection.” What did you learn?
University of Pennsylvania
The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals. (400-650 words)
University of Virginia
We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
College of Arts and Sciences - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - U.Va. engineers are working to solve problems that affect people around the world, from our long-term water purification project in South Africa to continuing to research more efficient applications of solar power. However, most students start small, by using engineering to make a difference in daily life. If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
School of Architecture - Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
School of Nursing - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
What’s your favorite word and why?
We are a community with quirks, both in language (we’ll welcome you to Grounds, not campus) and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
While a student at U.Va., Fulbright Scholar Rowan Sprague conducted groundbreaking research aimed at protecting the complex structure of honeybee hives. We know that colonies include bees acting in a diverse range of roles, all equally important to the success of the hive. What role will you play in the U.Va. hive?
To tweet or not to tweet?
These are just a sample of the essay prompts that are available for students to begin working on now! Didn’t see one you were looking for? Tell us in the comments below and we’ll find it for you!