July 21, 2015, by


Over the last 40 years, the Common App has become the standard application in the college admissions process. Last year, according to the Common Application, approximately 857,000 applicants submitted over 3.7 million applications through their system! The Common App also processed over 14.3 million recommendations. 69 colleges and universities joined the Common App this year, bringing the total membership number to over 600.

If you think about it, your application is the one piece of the process on which you as an applicant still have full control. Everyone else is speaking on your behalf – your teachers, your counselor, your school, the College Board or ACT – so this is your opportunity to put your best foot forward and frame the way admissions officers think about you as a person. We want you to submit the most polished work possible, and that means understanding how to use the online application.

On August 1st, the Common App will go live for rising Seniors. Though no major changes to the application or their system have been made this year, they did make a few tweaks. Below are some of the changes that may affect you as an applicant.

Dashboard updates One of the most welcomed changes this year is an update to the information provided on the Dashboard. The Dashboard is a tab where you can easily track what you have and have not submitted for each school. School-specific writing requirements will now be clearly marked. This will allow you to see what writing pieces each college requires, instead of being surprised by hidden essay requirements as you answer the school-specific questions.

High school search using CEEB code The Common App’s high school search function has been upgraded to allow you to search for your high school by CEEB code, also known as the College Board or CEEB code.

It is essential that you enter the right high school, as your entry on your “Education” tab will directly impact your “Recommenders” section. Depending on how your high school sends materials – either through the Common App or Naviance’s eDocs – the Common App will provide directions on how to invite your recommenders.

Print preview The Common App has added a preview button at the top of each section. You will have the ability to quickly generate a preview of the application as you work through the different sections. By viewing the preview, you may spot an error that is difficult to see in the small text boxes.

Though you will be able to preview the application at any time, you will only be able to generate a PDF of the application during the submission process. Print the PDF and give it to your parents so they can do one final review your application before you hit submit!

Essays The Common App has also made it optional for colleges to require the main personal statement. Our recommendation is to submit your essay to all schools to which you are applying. You’ve put a lot effort into the essay, and it should help give the reader a better sense of who you are as a person. Why wouldn’t you want to add this to your application?

The Common App has also made a few changes to the essay prompts. While most changes only updated the language they use, they’ve replaced the prompt on contentment with one on problem solving. Here are the new prompts:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.


  • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?


  • 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 problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.


  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


The Common App will also allow you to make unlimited edits to your essay. In the past they limited applicants to three versions of the personal essay. You shouldn’t personalize the main essay for your colleges – that is what the school-specific questions are for.

AP exam scores You may now enter up to 15 AP exams taken and yet to be taken in the testing section. It used to be that if you had taken over 10, you had to include the information in the additional information box. There is no magic number for how many AP exams you should take; this will depend on your specific high school’s curriculum. This change to the application will mean all of your testing information will stay listed together.

Required explanation box If you have an educational interruption, you will now have a separate box to complete. In years past, educational interruption, disciplinary situations, and criminal histories were all in the same box. This change should make completing and reading the application a little more straightforward.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver You will now be permitted to change whether you waive your right to review a recommendation prior to that recommendation or the application being submitted. Since this section can be confusing, it is helpful to have the option to make changes to your selection.


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