Early decision and early action applications start becoming due at the end of the month. To make sure your Common App is in good shape, take a look at my 10 tips.
1.) Clean and make private your social media accounts. More and more admissions teams are taking a quick look to see what Google turns up. I once found an embarrassing video on a Facebook page that a student had forgotten about. Google yourself and see what turns up.
2.) Make sure you have a normal email address. Jimmythespeedster@google.com is not an appropriate college admissions email. email@example.com is more appropriate. Schools look at the email and if it is strange, they start reading your application wondering if you are a serious student.
3.) Early decision. When you elect to apply early decision, the Common App emails a document to your school counselor and to one parent asking the counselor and the parent to vow to accept the terms of applying early decision. This means if you get in you promise to go there. It means the counselor will send your transcript to that school only. Make sure you elect early decision soon enough so that the documents can get electronically signed by the counselor and the parent before the deadline.
4.) Common App main essay version. In the past you could have several versions of your main essay. This year you can only have one essay with only 2 edits allowed after you first submit the essay. This means if after you submit your essay you see a typo and fix the typo, that's edit one. You then apply to college #2. After you apply to #2, you decide to use an entirely different essay. That's your last change. You see a typo in the second essay. There is no way to fix it. You cannot go back and use the first essay. It is gone! Make sure you have someone who hasn't read your essay to read it to find typos before you cut and paste it into the Common App, so you don't have to use one of your Common App edits to fix a silly mistake.
5.) "Additional Information" section. This section is optional, but you should use this space if possible. I believe this is the most valuable space on the Common App. You can write about anything you want, and you can change it as many times as you want. Use this to explain your D's, F's, low test scores, expulsion, other disciplinary issues. You can also use this for a second essay on an extra-curricular activity, community service, or to explain an unfortunate high school situation such as homelessness.
6.) Where to find the essays. The main essay is in the body of the main Common App in the "Writing" section. Essays required by the individual schools are a little trickier to find. They can be in two places. Open the schools supplement section. Click on the "Questions" section, then click in the "Other Information" section. Some essays are here. For other essays, look in the "Writing Supplement" section and click on "Questions."
7.) Hidden essays. Some essays don't appear until after you tell the college to which school or program you are applying. For example Case Western Reserve University does not have its own questions when you first look at their supplement. If in the "Questions" section you select "Pre-Professional Program," then the "Writing" section appears on the page and when you click on it, you see two additional questions.
Once you are done with a school's supplement, go back through it to make sure your answers didn't trigger more essay questions.
8.) Requesting teacher recommendations: Some schools invite teacher recommendations through Naviance, then Naviance sends the recommendations to the Common App. For other schools you name your recommenders in the Common App. Recommendations are hidden in the schools' supplements. For naming recommenders directly in the Common App, you cannot invite a teacher to recommend you until you have opened up one school's supplement and go the section "Recommenders and FERPA." You have to enter the teacher information and the teacher will get a form from the Common App to fill out and to upload to the Common App. Once you invite a teacher from one school's supplement, you do not have to invite her again. Her name will populate at the other schools. To make sure your teachers get their forms in time, open up a supplement ASAP and name them as recommenders.
9.) Boys over 18 should register with the Selective Service. You can do this online. Registering is a requirement to receive fderal financial aid.
10.) Optional questions: You are not required to answer these questions: class rank; demographics (you have to say you are not answering though) graduation date; "Do you have any children?"; parents' addresses and emails; ages of siblings; test scores; and in some school supplements, family income.