Now, don't get me wrong, I am a big proponent of doing things early to reduce stress later on in the admissions process. I know that seniors have a busy schedule once they get back to school. That being said, I do encourage my students to take their time filling out the Common Application. It is not a race and it is still somewhat early in the process. Personally, I think it is more important that the application be filled out correctly, and thoroughly, than to get it in months before the deadline.
So, here are a few tips as you start filling out your Common Application for this year's application cycle:
1. Take your time. As I said above, it is not a race. Make sure you are filling in all of your information correctly. Sometimes, when students rush they make silly mistakes. Make sure you are reading each page in its entirety and filling out each piece of information carefully. Even minor errors can become a pain for you to fix later on in the process.
2. Read instructions and suggested tips. The Common Application has done an excellent job with their revisions of the application in terms of offering help and assistance to general questions. They have added in a section on the right side of each page that offers helpful suggestions and guidance as you fill out your information. If you have a question, consult these first, you might just find your answer.
3. Don't hit submit until you have had someone double check your work. College applications are a huge step for high school students as they establish their independence. Remember though, it is okay to ask for help. Find someone you trust (parent, college counselor, etc) to look through your application before you hit the "submit" button. Two sets of eyes (or three or four...) are always better than one and may just catch something you hadn't seen before.
4. Think through your options. While some of the sections are quite easy and quick to fill out (such as your profile and family information), some of the sections require a bit more thought and planning. For example, I encourage students to spend time thinking through the activities section before just filling it out. This section provides a big opportunity to share substantial information with the college about yourself. You want to make sure that you are not missing any activities, that you are providing accurate and informative descriptions, and that you clearly explain your role. You will also want to think through your options about reporting test scores. If you are applying to a test-optional college you may want to consider whether or not it makes sense for you to present your scores in the Common Application.
5. Confirm the educational information for your school. One section that can be confusing for students is the educational information. Some high schools rank their students and some don't. Some schools weight the GPA and some don't. Many schools are on different grading scales. Take the time to consult your transcript to determine your school's case and make sure to ask questions if you are unsure of what to put down in this section.