About Common Application

One of the questions we hear often in our office is: Should I use the common application?  Our answer is “Yes,” but with a few caveats. The Common Application was created in order to eliminate a lot of the ‘busy work’ involved in applying to college; take advantage of it.  Colleges pay a fee to be a member of the Common Application. If they didn’t believe in it, they wouldn’t pay to be a member. That said, cavalier use of this application is not in anyone’s interest. Do not use it to over-apply, but do use it as a timesaving tool, noting that each application can and should be personalized for each college. Use the Common Application in conjunction with a thorough investigation of the school, which may include a visit, a letter indicating interest, and an interview, among other things. When applying E.D. or E.A., use the school’s own application. The Common Application should never be the first point of contact between you and that school. Make sure that you tailor each application as much as possible to each individual school through the essay or personal statement.  Also, double- or triple-check your applications to make sure that the right school is getting the right application. Finally, most colleges require a supplement to the common application, and these can be downloaded from the college’s page or the Common Application web site. (www commonapp org) While some colleges say their supplement is optional, the reality is that your application looks better when you complete “optional” material.

After the Application is Mailed

This is usually a very trying time for students and families. You’ve done all the work, you’ve written a great essay, and you’ve gotten it all off in the mail well before the deadline, (We hope!!) Now what? Other than E.D./E.A. applications, which usually take 4-6 weeks to process, most regular decision college applications take anywhere from 8-12 weeks, depending on the volume of mail, data processing and reading procedures, and number of personnel on the college side. This time, when things are “up in the air,” can be daunting for seniors. Here are some tips for making it through these months and weeks:

  • Concentrate on your studies! Colleges do ask to see winter term grades; you can help yourself a great deal by putting in a little extra effort.
  • Follow up with all of your schools to make sure they received your application. Most colleges will send out a letter to you indicating that it has been received and is being processed. If you do not receive such a letter within 3-4 weeks of the deadline, give the admissions office a call to check on the status. Also, parents should check with their banks to make sure the application fee was deposited. Finally, the college counselors can always give a call to our contacts in admissions in cases where the application still is in limbo. With the amount of mail colleges have to deal with, the problem is usually that an application has been misfiled rather than lost or missing. 
  • Keep colleges up to date on your progress since your application. Did you win an award at Founders Day? Cum Laude? Do a special community service activity? Make sure your schools know about these updates.
  • Use the time you would have spent on college searches and writing essays to re-connect with your friends. Senior year really moves quickly--even though it may not seem like it in October--so enjoy every moment!
  • Send thank you notes to teachers who were kind enough to write recommendations for you.


And finally the time comes for the news to arrive. 

Thousands of students race to the mailbox, log-on to websites, call a dedicated phone line and the next few moments can feel like an eternity. When you get good news--and you will--celebrate! But also, be considerate of those around you who may not have heard the good news you have. Still, be joyful. It’s a wonderful accomplishment to earn a place in college. 

The key to how you will handle disappointing news is, of course, linked to the advice early in the process. Don’t apply to a college you don’t want to go to. If you follow this advice then whatever comes down the pike will simply be a decision. The bad news may sting and disappoint, but it won’t devastate. And it shouldn’t. So, focus on what your choices are rather than what they are not.

But can one always ‘move on?’ Not always. You may be angry, sad, confused, jealous—maybe all of the above. Yet, after some time passes you will put these decisions in their proper context, and hopefully you will understand them as part of a process, and not just the college process, but the process of growing up, finding a path to follow and looking for opportunity. In the face of college disappointment there are lots of people who will be in your corner: parents, college counselors, teachers, advisor, and friends.

Wait Lists

Because students are making more applications each year, and because colleges are much more conscious of their yield rate, students are finding themselves on wait lists more than ever. If this happens to you, take heart. Each year, we see many students accepted from waitlists, and we encourage you to take the following steps to enhance your chances:

  • Send the response card back immediately. Sometimes colleges gauge your interest in them by how quickly you reply.
  • Write a note to the admissions representative for that school underscoring how much you would like to attend the school, why you think the college is a good match for you, and any news about you that has taken place since you applied. 
  • Let your college counselor know as soon as possible, what your plans are. Colleges rarely know whether or not they will use the wait list before May 1st, so it is often fruitless for us to make calls much before then. However, we will lobby on your behalf in late April and on into early May, when wait list action starts to heat up. 
  • You might consider an additional letter of recommendation, most likely from a current teacher, indicating your excellence and growth during the year.