Thursday, August 1, 2013

The New Common Application is Here!

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The New Common Application is Here!

August 1 is the big day, when the new version of Common Application debuts.  Known as CA4, this new version of Common App offers the same benefits of using one basic form to apply to hundreds of colleges, while offering streamlined technological advances, and some new guidelines for the much-heralded college essay.

It’s easy to understand why some students are looking forward to the CA4 launch like Obi-wannabes line up for a new Star Wars film, but there are some important precautions to keep in mind as well:

Keep the big picture in mind  The buzz around CA4 is strong, and applying to college is a pretty exciting thing all by itself.  But thereason you’re applying is because you’d like to attend that college—and that only happens if your application is good, not fast.  Not a single one of the 517 colleges on Common App has an application deadline in August, and no one gets bonus points for being the first to apply.  Before you hit Submit, make sure your work is thorough, thoughtful, and a complete reflection of who you are.

Waive your right to see your letters  This is especially true when Common App asks you if you want to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation.  Many students view this as a great opportunity to exercise their right to know, and check Do Not Waive.  You’re free to do that, but some teachers—and even some colleges—see this as suspect; why would a student not trust someone they’ve asked to write for them?  Besides, you’d only get to see the letters at the college that admits you—and once you’re in, does the letter really matter anymore?  Waive the right, and make your declaration of independence somewhere else on the application…

Big brother can’t help you much now   …like here.  The changes to CA4 are big enough that the well-meaning advice of a sibling who filled out the old Common App can help very little, and hurt a great deal.  This is especially true with the one essay required on the new application—different prompts are used, and the word limit is real.  If you’re looking to make applying to college your own experience, do it here; write your own essay, ask one or two people to read it, and follow these simple guidelines.

Be patient  Common App has worked very hard to make sure all students will have a great application experience on CA4.  They’ve even tested the application several times—just not with hundreds of thousands of students at the same time.  In addition, some colleges are still fine-tuning their supplemental pages, and Common App has said some of these supplemental pages may not be ready by on time (I know—colleges are missing an application deadline.  Ironic, right?)

This is why it’s important to remember everyone means well.  If something doesn’t work, tell Common App.  If a college’s page doesn’t quite look right, DON’T be the memorable student who calls the college and says “What’s up with your Common App supplement?”  You’ll be memorable at that college, for sure—but for all the wrong reasons.  Instead, wait a day; if it still looks bad, tell Common App.

You and Common App have a mutual goal—to help you submit the best possible application.  Keep that in mind, and if the CA4 newness leaves you anxious, wait until August 18 to apply.  CA4 will still be there, no one will have been admitted by then, and a friend or two can walk you through it.

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