Aug 9, 2010

Tips for Completing the Common Application’s ‘New’ Academics Section

Within 24 hours of launch, the 2010-11 Common Application clocked nearly 25,000 registrations for new online accounts. Ninety-eight applications were submitted, with the first person hitting the submit button a mere 3 hours and 37 minutes into the new year.

Absent a few bumps including a temporarily missing delete button, the transition to the new form appears to be going relatively smoothly. There are a few changes from last year, however, the most notable of which are in the Academics Section. As you begin completing the form, be aware of the following:

The Common Application now asks students to “self report” class rank. Self-reported information supplements but does not replace score reports and school records. Provisions are made on the new form for school systems, like Fairfax County, which do not rank. But if a student selects a Class Rank option other than “None,” additional information becomes required and must be completed before the student can submit.

Grade point averages are also requested. GPA is not required for submission. If a student enters a GPA, a dropdown menu appears asking about the nature of the scale used and whether the GPA is weighted or not. If you have a choice, the Common App asks that you report weighted GPA. But if your school does not calculate a cumulative numerical GPA or if it uses a scale that is different from the options available in the dropdown menu, leave the Cumulative GPA field blank. Note: students are expected to report their current GPA and class rank and not anticipate improvements in the coming year.

There is a new layout for self-reported SAT scores. While a little confusing, the intent is for students to “showcase” their best efforts irrespective of what Score Choice allows or individual colleges might require. Students are asked to list their best SAT Reasoning Test scores across the test dates, which runs counter to how scores may be reported using Score Choice. Note that Score Choice only allows you to send score reports from selected “sittings,” so you may want to be careful that what you report on the Common Application relates to what you are requesting from the College Board. If for some reason you wish to report scores from more than three test dates, you may report remaining scores in the Additional Information section.

ACT subscores may also be reported. You are instructed to report your highest individual composite and subscores earned so far, even if they are from different test dates. This reporting method is not meant to imply that colleges will compute a new composite “superscore” based on individual subscores. And, you should not attempt to calculate a new composite based on individual subscores. Keep in mind that additional ACT reports cost extra. Some colleges will, however, accept self-reported information in situations where the applicant is using scores from multiple sittings. This helps students avoid additional expense (see Yale’s policy).

• There is space to list only eight AP/IB/SAT Subject Test Scores. Once you select a specific test type, dropdown menus will appear on which only applicable subjects and scores are displayed. If you have more than eight test scores to report, you should give priority to the scores you have already earned, followed by SAT Subject Tests you intend to take. In the event you have taken any of these tests multiple times, only report the single highest score. Note that the Common Application expects colleges to discern which Advanced Placement and IB tests you will take later this year from your transcript, so if room is tight you can leave these tests off the form. If you still need more space, however, you are directed to report remaining scores in the Additional Information section.

Little yellow question marks appear throughout the online Common Application, which provide pop-up "help" boxes specific to those questions. But if you continue to be confused about the form, do not hesitate to contact the Common App’s Support Center.

Also, take time at the outset to review the demo video, a link for which you won’t find until you’re about to tear your hair out. Although it doesn’t go into too much detail, it’s really fairly helpful and deserves a more prominent location on the site.

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