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If you’re applying to college, you may have heard of the Common Application (popularly known as the “Common App”). It’s an advanced college application platform that allows you to apply to multiple colleges at once. While not ALL colleges are on the Common App, there are a large number of institutions who accept applications through this platform. The Common App is definitely a time saver, but there are some things to keep in mind. Here is your map to the Common App!

Do not procrastinate

You never know what madness will come up during senior year, so start your application as soon as possible! Your application should be something you feel proud of, and that takes time. Plus, waiting to start at the last minute will only stress you out! Be sure to tackle it early.

Navigate the dashboard

Once you’ve created your Common App account, you will be taken to your dashboard. You will need to navigate to the “College Search” tab to add the colleges you wish to apply to. After selecting schools of interest, your dashboard will now act as your home base: it will show you the deadlines, requirements, and supplements each school has presented for your completion.

Start the application

Once you’ve selected your schools, mosey on over to the “Common App” tab. This section goes out to all of your schools, providing each with the basic information necessary to figure out who you are as an applicant. This section is usually lengthy, so take time to sit down with a parent, guardian, or mentor to work on it. If you get stuck on sections related to class history, feel free to contact your high school counselor! Having a copy of your high school transcript and/or report cards might help you remember what you’ve taken and how you’ve performed.

Categorize your activities

Most of the “Common App” tab is general information about yourself. The last two sections, “Activities” and “Writing,” will give you a chance to shine. The Common App only accepts ten activities from your high school career, but you have room to describe each activity. Don’t be afraid to group activities to allow yourself more room. For example, put soccer, basketball, and track together as “Varsity Athletics.” Or mention some of your bigger service projects in the description of “Community Service.”

Complete the personal essay

The “Writing” section is for your college essay. Take some time to brainstorm, draft, edit, and have a trusted mentor give you some honest feedback. The more drafts and revisions, the better! By putting a lot of effort into your essay, you will be more confident when it comes time to click submit.

Discover different school requirements

After the “Common App” tab, there is the “My Colleges” tab. Here are the questions, supplements, and recommendation requests unique to each school. Every college organizes this section differently, so you should take a few minutes to click through each section.

Even though there may be a section called “Writing Supplement,” many schools will put additional writing prompts in several different spots. This is especially true for certain fields of study, such as nursing or engineering. There are plenty of surprises to be found in this section, so don’t leave it until the last minute!

Find a scholarship

The last and final tab is titled “Financial Aid Resources.” Pretty straightforward, but people don’t always take advantage of this one. The Common App has links to information on financial aid provided by both the federal government and state governments.

There is also a tool to research colleges and universities for scholarships that are suited for you. When it comes to financial aid, be mindful of the deadlines! Eligible students for financial aid often don’t apply for it because they miss the due date, or they didn’t even know they were qualified to begin with. So be sure to explore financial aid, even if you aren’t sure you qualify. That way, you can make your college education as affordable as possible!

Well, there you have it: the Common App! Hopefully this gives you a little taste of what’s coming, so you can be all the more successful in your final year of high school.