Sep 6, 2013

A FREE Guide to the New Common Application

Robin Mamlet is a former dean of admission at Stanford University

There’s finally some good news for anyone struggling to understand the “how’s” and “why’s” of the new Common Application. 

Authors Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde have rushed to put together a FREE downloadable guide to the basic mechanics of individual sections of the new form and just made it available on their website this week.

Designed as a supplement to College Admission:  From Application to Submission, the New Guide to the Application Form provides a step-by-step “walk through” of the new Common application and includes

  • explanations of why colleges want various pieces of information and how to provide it
  • answers to questions about extracurricular activities, academics, testing, and essays
  • guidance on fee waivers and the early decision agreement
  • a To Do List for the “many moving parts” of the application process

As the Common Application continues to make minor adjustments to the content and operation of their new online form, this mini-guide provides the best explanation I’ve seen so far on the basic flow of questions and why they are asked.

Where it falls short is in providing a more detailed explanation of how college-specific questions can sometimes “unlock” essay prompts in the writing supplement or how smart technology both guides questioning as well as the relationship between the application and supplements. 

The authors also neatly side-step the question of how to respond to testing questions by simply advising applicants to provide their best scores regardless of what the question asks.  By the way, this is the advice that has been provided by Common Application officials in response to specific inquiries.

In addition, some of the instructions on how to invite recommenders or how colleges control the number of recommendations they receive through the Common Application are a little vague.  And there is no mention of the relationship between Naviance (Family Connection) and the Common Application.  So don’t look for those answers here.

And it should be noted that the Common Application provides for 150 (not 50) characters for describing “Details, Honors and Accomplishments” in the "Activities" section, the completion of which does require some thought and care (sorry Dean J). 

While the authors and I have agreed to disagree on the purpose and usefulness of resumes for high school students (some colleges even ask for them), the mechanical explanations of what goes where and why you need to provide certain information are very good. 

By any measure, Mamlet and Vandevelde have provided a great first start on understanding the new Common Application.  And it’s FREE!

Although the guide is meant to be used together with the original book and refers frequently to chapters, the information provided on the Common Application certainly stands alone and may be used that way.  In other words, you don’t have to buy the book to benefit from the advice offered, although I'm sure that would be appreciated.

To get your free copy of the Guide to the Application Form, visit the College Admission website and begin downloading.  And take a moment to browse the wealth of other information provided in the True Admissions Blog and featured posts on the site.

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