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In the world of college admissions, August 1st is a big deal. On this date, the Common Application – the mother of all college applications – opens for registration.

Here’s how the Common Application describes itself: “The Common Application membership association was established in 1975 by 15 private colleges that wished to provide a common, standardized first-year application form for use at any member institution.”

Now, 36 years later, over 450 colleges and universities, public and private, have joined the ranks. It’s always fun to see which colleges make the switch each year. This year, I was thrilled to see USC and UNC-Chapel Hill cross over. Until now, both universities had difficult, time-consuming applications.

Unless you’re only applying to a few state universities, you won’t be able to avoid this application. The good news is that you only have to fill it out once, and your academic record, test scores, list of extracurricular activities, background information, and recommendation letters are sent to each college on your list.

The essay, however, is a bit more complicated. In its writing section, the Common Application requires one main essay of 500 or fewer words, as well as a paragraph describing an extracurricular activity. Then there’s the supplemental essay – or essays – to consider. I’ll write more about these later, but for now it’s important to know that students will write an average of four to six supplemental essays by the time they finish the Common Application. I’ve had students face ten or more supplemental essays. Good thing we started early.

Seniors, I’ll say it again: August 1st is a big deal. Your application season has arrived, and it’s time to get down to business. Most of you have a full month of summer left. Use it wisely. You don’t have to rush things; you just have to pace yourself.

You can register for the Common Application here and begin filling out your forms. Use an email address that reflects the fact that you are a serious student. Cutiepie123@yahoo.com isn’t going to impress an admissions officer.

Familiarize yourself with the Download Forms section at the top of the Common Application’s homepage. The “Deadlines and Requirements” grid will come in handy as you start to organize your applications. You can also download a paper copy of the application and review the teacher and counselor evaluation forms.

Most importantly, remember that the main essay is the most time-consuming section of this application. It’s also the most crucial, setting you apart from fellow applicants who share your grades and test scores. Skip ahead to the writing section and START THAT ESSAY NOW. With a bit of dedication, you can finish it before school starts.

[AUTHOR: Cassie Nichols]

September 8, 2013

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