Most colleges open their new application cycle on August 1. Senior year will start just a few weeks later, with many class assignments, events, and activities competing for scarce time. Early deadlines might feel like they are far in the future, but they will loom up faster than you anticipate. Take a few steps in the summer to get ahead on your applications.
Make an Activities Master List
Most applications ask students about how they spent their time outside the classroom. Activities don’t have to be an official school club or team. They could include jobs, family responsibilities, volunteer efforts, participation in faith-based groups, and important hobbies. This isn’t just to pad your resume. Colleges are giving increasing attention to the fact that some students spend many hours a week working or caring for siblings or that a student may not be in a school club but devote their free time to beach cleanups or creating film productions.
Create a list of that includes what you did, what your responsibilities and impact were, how much time you spent each week, and what years you were involved. Go into details about projects, what you did and how you felt about completing them. If there is a teacher, coach, or adult mentor who might write a letter of recommendation, make a note of their name and contact info. Your list should lead with the activities that are most important to you, rather than strict chronological order.
Be expansive when writing this master list. The purpose isn’t to create something that is ready to attach to an application, but to create a detailed document that you can draw from when working on your applications. It’s ok to include bullet points, paragraphs describing an event or a responsibility, or a list of awards or performance pieces.
Pro Tip: It can be a good idea to ask your parents or a close friend if they remember any activities you’ve forgotten. Short term activities like a cyber camp or film conference might slip your mind, but might be combined with other activities in your application to demonstrate a thread of a deep and enduring interest area. When my own kids applied to college, looking back at old calendars brought up several items that we had forgotten about.
Create a Common Application Account
The Common Application is a portal used by hundreds of different colleges (from Aberystwyth University (Wales) to York College of Pennsylvania) to process student applications. Students enter their personal information, school info, and activities on one main page, that is then sent to any participating college. The advantage for students is that they don’t have to enter basic information on a multitude of different applications. (The advantage for colleges is that students are more likely to apply to their school if it’s a relatively easy add on rather than a totally separate application portal.)
The Common App does an annual rollover to the new application cycle. The good news is that much of a student’s data is preserved in the rollover, so a rising senior can input this data during the summer and be a step ahead when the new application cycle starts. Student accounts are frozen for about a week during the system refresh, usually around the last week of July.
Data entered in the Common App tab will rollover. This includes the subsections for Profile, Family, Education, Testing, and Activities. Sections that do not roll over include answers in the My Colleges tab (which includes college-specific questions) and invitations to recommenders (or recommendations that might have been uploaded). So you should wait to enter responses to these sections until after the rollover has occurred. This Application Guide for First Time Students can help you create your account and start filling out the application.
Pro Tip: If you are primarily applying to colleges in California or Texas, you might not use the Common App portal for your applications. In that case, take the time to research the applications you will be using so you have a better understanding of what you will need to submit.
Start Working on Your Essays
A strong essay should be primarily about you. It’s your opportunity to tell the admissions readers the rest of the story that they don’t get from reading your transcript, activities list, and test scores. Don’t procrastinate work on pre-writing exercises that helps you define and share what values, experiences, and goals make up your story.
Many colleges use similar essay prompts from year to year. The Common Application has announced the Personal Statement prompts for 2021-22, which includes one new prompt to replace one that wasn’t used often. This means that you don’t have to wait until applications officially open in late summer to start thinking and writing about who you are and what strengths and attributes you will bring to the college community. If this is an area you want help on, maybe an Admissions Decrypted Essay Coaching Package is something to consider.
Pro Tip: You should always write essays and other supplemental writing responses in a document and paste them into applications. This allows you to use spell check and word count tools and protects you from losing hours of work if there is a system glitch in the application.
Each of these tasks takes time, usually more time than expected. Getting a head start on completing college applications can relieve pressure from looming fall deadlines and allow headspace for putting together a high-quality application. Don’t panic when you can’t access your Common App account during the system refresh. Use this time to work on other tasks (like essays) so you are ready to go when rollover is complete. If you’d like help with your college applications or college planning, get in touch; I’d love to be part of your team.