Prep Talk Blog > October 2009

This week, high school blogger Olivia Duell discusses how she uses the Common Application to save time and simplify the complicated process of applying to college.

Back in August, I made a list of all the colleges I definitely wanted to apply to. Staring at the names on paper, it hit me how fast all the deadlines were approaching and how in under a year, I’d hopefully be heading off to one of these universities. Then I became very nervous; thinking about all I had to complete made me worry about missing the deadlines and I got the urge to fill out all my applications RIGHT THAT INSTANT. I do realize that it was August, that I wasn’t applying to any college for early decision, and that I was crazy. But I still felt the need to get a head start, so I ventured onto the internet and began checking out all of the colleges’ websites.

First, I headed over to the admissions page at NYU. Let me just say there was a ton of information, and at the same time I couldn’t seem to find the answers to the specific questions I had. The same was true when I headed to Drexel, then to Temple, and finally, grew frustrated. I was applying to seven colleges, and I didn’t want to hunt through seven different admissions web pages. What I did notice was that most of the colleges recommended applying via the Common App, so I checked out the website just to see if this was an option that would work for me. Fortunately, the information that the Common App provided was a bit more organized. After signing up with a user account, the site basically told you all you needed to know.  It listed what colleges accept the Common App, allowing you to keep track of the ones you wanted to apply to on your user profile. Luckily for me, six out of my seven choices were affiliated with the Common App (Temple has their own system) and I realized this would greatly help my application process.

It’s pretty easy to get started and fill out your general information: address, parent info, activities (you can even upload a document if you’d like to add a brag sheet), etc. It’s all pretty self-explanatory to the extent that you’re alerted if you leave a section blank. It does get a bit confusing at times; the test section, for instance, allows you to record standardized test scores, but you still have to send in the official scores from the College Board and from ACT. Guidance counselors and teachers also need to be invited online in order to fill out recommendations; because not all teachers are familiar with the Common App, it’s probably best to make them aware the invitation is coming.

The biggest pain is the college-specific supplements. Each college tags on their own supplement that needs to be filled out along with the regular application.  Often, this requires more writing work explaining why so-and-so college is the right choice. Yet, if the college doesn’t require this kind of essay in its supplement, it’s likely you’ll be forced to create “alternate” applications (once you submit your first application to one school, you can tweak it before you send it to other schools). In this case, you make your Common App personal essay college specific, because you aren’t allowed this opportunity in the supplement. It gets really confusing, and you need to keep track of which personal essay to send to each college depending on their supplements. I was forced to make yet another hand-written list.

Over all, though, the Common App is pretty solid. It’s helped me get organized, it breaks the application down for me, and it even tells me my due dates. Plus, a ton of colleges accept the Common App and consider it equally to their own custom applications. It’s easy, efficient, and I recommend it to anyone going through the college application process.

For more stories from students themselves, check out the archives for previous columns in The Admissions Diary.

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Educated Nation writes that UniversitiesAndColleges.org has compiled a "be-all end-all" list of free online college courses. These aren't degree-granting programs, but they're a great way to embark on or continue your intellectual journey, whether you're a high schooler who wants a glimpse into what college coursework is like or a graduate eager to expand your knowledge. Have a specific subject of interest? You can select from subjects such as History or Business and Economics. Want a taste of the Ivy League? Yale puts lecture videos of introductory courses online.

Here are some of the fantastic educational options available on the web:
Stanford University offers downloadable courses and lectures that can be played on your iPod.
Aspiring music students can get instruction through the Berklee School of Music's free music lessons.
Check out business school by sampling classes from MIT's presitigious Sloan School of Management.
MIT, the top tech school in the country, also has a considerable number of free undergraduate course materials.
Study abroad just became free with podcasts and lectures from the UK's University of Nottingham.

For these awesome choices and many more, check out the full list here.

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