A Gateway to College Admissions: Common Application

By Dr. Gina La Monica

August 1 is quickly approaching when the Common Application (Common App) opens for the class of fall 2022. Although, you can work on many sections now, which will roll over on opening day. The Common App is a portal serving over 900 universities all over the world. Even though there are other college admissions portals to use, this site is the most comprehensive with partnerships with the majority of colleges except for public institutions, which often have their own admissions portal.

Upon creating an account on this site, the first step is to select the colleges you would like to attend by navigating to the college search tab. Once you have chosen the schools, you can click on each one to see the various due dates including if the college has early action (EA) or early decision (ED). As I have stated in my previous columns, it is advantageous to apply EA whenever possible and ED if there is a “dream” college.

After selecting your colleges and noting all the due dates, the next step is to complete the profile aspect of the Common App. You should set aside at least two hours for this section. It is of utmost importance to complete this part in detail taking no shortcuts. Admissions staff can immediately tell who the conscientious students are from the ones who carelessly put their applications together.

In the profile section of the Common App, you will find some drop-down menu items as well as fill-in-the-blank responses. When completing the fill-in-the-blank areas, make sure you spell every word correctly, do not use abbreviations, and note which words should be capitalized.

A section of the Common App that can be extremely time-consuming is the activities section. Be strategic on which ones you mention first out of the ten allowed. You can use the arrows on the right side to arrange the list. Since the admissions staff can only spend 5-8 minutes on each application, mention the ones that can have the highest impact first. Activities that you have participated in for many years should be higher up than the ones you spent less time on. For example, if you are an accomplished pianist and have been playing this instrument all four years of high school, then list this activity first. Whereas, if you were on the swim team for one semester, list that activity last. Athletics, leadership roles, volunteer work, internships, and employment are all excellent activities to document in this section.

Each activity also requires information regarding your role or leadership position along with the organization’s name and description of the activity. Here is your chance to communicate to the admissions staff what roles you have held, how you have grown through these experiences, and what you have accomplished. The Common App only gives you 150 characters; therefore, in a concise format, describe what you did and accomplished. For example, an internship position at a doctor’s office could entail multitasking by answering phones while assisting patients improving time management and organizational skills. Each activity listed should highlight different skills and characteristics detailing your strengths. 

The Common App also has a section where you list your courses and grades from both high school and community college. Be sure to write out the exact titles of the classes that appear on your transcripts; do not abbreviate any words. Official transcripts will be needed upon admission to a college.

I will be covering how to write a winning essay for the Common App in the next column along with other questions colleges might ask you to complete. Lastly, there is a section on the Common App to add your recommenders, such as a teacher, employer, or coach.  Be selective in who you ask to write a letter of recommendation and ask early. If possible, select a teacher from your major who can best articulate your academic successes. An employer or coach can serve as your second recommendation expressing complementary characteristics and valuable life skills.  

The Common App can be overwhelming if completed all in one sitting so it might be beneficial to complete each of the longer sections separately. Copying all the content, especially the activities section, on a Google Doc is highly recommended so that you can have the information readily accessible for another college admissions portal, such as the UC portal. Before you hit the submission button, have others review your Common Application to ensure there are no errors. You can review each section in the “Preview” mode.

Get an early start on the Common App by starting now. August will be here before you know it.

Dr. Gina La Monica has a Doctorate in Education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at many universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, California Lutheran University, California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University, etc. She was a tenured professor and an expert in career technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and helps students of all ages from kindergarten to the university level with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring, and education plans. 

College and Career Advisement
Dr. Gina La Monica
(818) 359-0859


Written by Gina La Monica

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