working-690680_1280While most people are enjoying the lazy days of summer, those working in college admissions are gearing up for another busy application season. Beginning August 1st, high school seniors can log onto the 2015-2016 Common Application (CA) and start completing the online application for member colleges.

The Common Application was developed in 1975 with the goal of making the college process easier for students. Its purpose was to help reduce the number of applications students would have to complete. Today more than 500 colleges and universities accept the CA. Overtime, however, the CA has become more complicated, and there is no longer a universal policy among its member colleges when it comes to some specific admissions requirements.

New this year, member colleges can choose to make the CA essay optional. Prior to the 2015-16 application, all member colleges were required to have students answer one of the five prompts in an essay with a 650-word limit. Although most colleges still require the CA essay, some have opted to do away with the obligatory essay. However, the CA gives the student the option to send the CA essay to all colleges, even if the school no longer requires it.

Often students are surprised to learn that many CA member colleges require supplemental essays and questions in addition to the CA essay. Some colleges require one additional essay, while other schools have five or more supplemental questions/essays. Wake Forest is one such example. It’s important to research all the essay/question requirements well in advance, so there are no last minute surprises.

To make matters even more confusing, some colleges allow students to submit additional writing samples that may or may not be specified on the CA. Students may be able to submit a graded paper. Some colleges require this in lieu of SAT/ACT scores and others give all students this as an additional option. It is important for students to know the college’s requirements and policies and know how to submit these supplemental items (upload within the CA or send directly to college via email or snail mail).

I encourage all high school seniors to log onto the CA and create an account ASAP. Familiarize yourself with the format, requirements and supplemental questions for each of your colleges. Then begin completing the background and contact information. The fall will be very busy with homework, testing, sports practice, college visits and interviews. Application deadlines will be here before you know it. Get a jumpstart now! And start writing those college essays. You’ll be glad you did!

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