CollegeLAH’s Guide to Using Common App

 

Creating your CommonApp account

  • Go to https://apply.commonapp.org/createaccount and select “First Year Student”. This will lead you to the next page to create an account. Fill in the required questions which should be self-explanatory.

  • Once you are logged in, you are able to view your Dashboard and your full CommonApp Account.

Your CommonApp Account

  • Your CommonApp Account is separated into five functions: Dashboard, My Colleges, Common App, College Search and Financial Aid Resources.

  • Dashboard: The Dashboard is the central monitor to your applications. Once you have added colleges to your applications, you will be able to view them on the dashboard, showing you the deadlines, requirements and your progress. You may also remove the college you chose here.
  • My Colleges: The My Colleges tab shows the colleges that you have added into your account. You will complete your work for each specific college here. Some colleges will require extra essays or questionnaires answered.
  • Common App: This is where you will fill up general details which are required for every college you are planning to apply (you will only need to fill up once regardless of the number of colleges you apply), from your profile, family members’ information, educational background, standardized testing results, your high school extracurricular activities to your Common App Essay.

  • College Search: College Search allows you to search for colleges/universities by different criteria, i.e. by name, country, state, term, applicant type or deadline. By clicking the “add college” button, the information of the particular college will become available on your “Dashboard” and “My Colleges” where now you will be able to check out and answer the supplemental questions required by the college.

  • Financial Aid Resources: This tab provides a general guideline for the financial aid made available by the US government. It might not be applicable for most of the international applicants. For more financial aid information (ie. how to apply for college-specific financial aid), please refer to the CollegeLAH US Application Financial Aid section.

The Common Application

Profile

This is the part where you fill in everything about yourself – name, address, contact details, demographics, geography, languages, citizenship, scholarship information, and common app fee waiver. It provides the most basic understanding of who you are to the admission officers. Most of this section is very straightforward but we will clarify the bits that might not be.

Common App Fee Waiver – Nothing in this world is free. Likewise, applying via Common App costs money as well. However, if you think that you face sufficient financial difficulties such that you might be unable to afford the application fees, then you can apply for the fee waiver. Your counsellor will be contacted to provide evidence of financial difficulties so don’t try to cheat.

Family

This is also a relatively straightforward section, where you are required to fill in information about your family background. It is divided into 4 subsections: Household, Parent 1, Parent 2, and Sibling. You will need their basic information such as name, age, occupation, country of birth, education level etc.

 Education

This is where things get gradually more confusing. You will provide your educational information here, from secondary school to your Pre-U studies. Here’s a clarification that will be useful for most readers here, especially if you’re from Malaysia. Even if you are enrolled in some pre-U courses such as ADP, A-levels, IB etc. in, for example, Taylor’s College, KDU, INTI University, you are indeed still in “high school” and it will be seen as something similar to the Grade 12 and 13 under the US education system.

Hence, under the “Current or most recent secondary/high school”, enter the information of your pre-U college instead of your high school which you did your SPM, IGCSE and so forth.

Current or Most Recent School: Unless you’re studying at a school in the USA or US Territories, your school might not be listed here. Search for your school’s name and if it does not appear, select “I don’t see my high school on this list”. Likewise, if you are homeschooled, select the “I am/was homeschooled” option. 

Other School: If you are doing your pre-U education in a different institution as compared to your secondary school, you will need to fill up this subsection. Just do exactly the same as the previous step for each high school you have attended. That said, please do not key in your primary school and kindergarten. Likewise, given that high school means the schools where you did SPM/IGCSE till IBDP/A-level/STPM/Matrikulasi/AP, please do not include your PMR school if it was different from the one you did your SPM/IGCSE at. Otherwise, please do. An example of how you can provide details about why you left each of the above secondary/high schools: I left the above secondary school after I finished the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia/ SPM).

College & Universities: If you have completed a university level course, be it online or through a physical college, fill up this subsection. For the occasional Singaporeans who might be reading this, declare your H3 Subjects here. Likewise, if you have completed an actual uni/college level course, declare here. Please keep in mind that your Pre-University education (A-level, IBDP, STPM, Matrikulasi, AP) does not count here.

Grades: Fill in the information based on the current school you are in. If you are on a pre-U programme that does not use GPA/CGPAs (A-level, IBDP), leave the relevant sections blank. Likewise, if you’re doing Matrikulasi or STPM, declare your CGPA as well as the GPA scale (‘4’ for STPM, Matrikulasi etc.) Whether or not your GPA is weighted depends on this question – do all contributing subjects/modules/aspects have the same individual contribution to your GPA? If your answer is no, then your GPA is probably weighted.

There are 4 options under the class rank reporting, mainly
1) Exact: For instance, 53 out of 187 (187 will be filled in under “class size”)
2) Decile: Top 10%, 20%, 30% … 
3) Quintile: Top 20%, 40% .., 80%
4) Quartile: Top 25%, 50% … and so on.

Community-Based Organization: If any of these organisations helped you with your Common App application, then do declare them. These are generally non-profit organisations that are representative of particular civil societies e.g. Black communities, underprivileged suburban children. 

Current or Most Recent Year Courses: This is where you declare your Pre-University subjects as well as your Year 11 subjects (SPM, IGCSE etc). In other words, A-level History counts as one course, STPM Ekonomi counts as one course.

Honors: If you have won awards, competitions or scholarships, declare them here. Important point to note here is the grading system, Grade 9 refers to Form 4 and equivalent, Grade 10 being SPM/IGCSE while Grade 11 refers to your AS-level. Intuitively, Grade 12 is your A-level/IBDP/STPM. The exception here then is that if your pre-U course lasts only a year e.g. Australian year 12, SAM, Matrikulasi. In that case, Grade 12 refers to that and Grade 11 refers to IGCSE etc. Basically, it all depends on the number of academic years your Pre-U studies contribute to. PG generally applies to those who undertook gap years.

Future Plans: Write about your future career plans and highest degree you intend to earn here.

 
Testing

Test Taken: Check ‘yes’ to self-report your SAT, SAT II, IELTS, TOEFL, IB, A-levels scores. You should list all tests that you expect to take and have already taken. When you have chosen all the exams, they will come out as new tabs on the same page (“Testing”). Fill out the required information under each tab which should be self-explanatory.

If you have taken courses such as SPM, STPM, IGCSE, IB Middle or IBDP, elect ‘yes’ for the last column with the prompt: “Is promotion within your education system based upon standard leaving examinations by a state or national leaving examinations board?” Do note that if you took AP, you do not have to check this box.

Senior Secondary Leaving Examinations: If you check ‘yes’, a new section indicating “Senior Secondary Leaving Examinations” also comes up. For each test chosen, another column will appear; this is where you should fill in the specifics of each test. This means that if you have already sat for your A-level (including AS-level), IBDP, STPM, then tick “yes” and fill up accordingly. For most, who are still studying for the actual examinations, tick “no”.

 
Activities

After indicating ‘yes’, you have a maximum of 10 columns for you to fill in all activities. You’re given a maximum of 50 characters to state the name of the activity, and another 150 characters to describe the activity. Once again, please take note of the grade level system (may refer to the “Honors” section). If you are taking a gap year after your Pre-University studies, any activities done after graduation come under “Post-Graduate”. 

For sports specifically, if you are in your school/state/national team, then you are involved in “Varsity/JV”. If you are not in the main team i.e. recreational, secondary or development team, then you are in “Clubs”. Please also take note you are required to list the activities in accordance to their significance to you.

For example:

Music Club – Founding President

Spearheaded 2 national music concerts; raised $10,000+ for the Malaysian Elderly Association. Honed leadership skills working with 60 members.  (142 characters)

Keep your description concise to minimize character count and convey your message clearly. You might want to consider carefully which activities to include as this section is vital in portraying who you are both as a student and as a person. It is highly recommended that you state activities that you are interested in continuing in university. You may include your experience in internships or volunteering or even hobbies if you feel that you have gained a lot from these activities.

 

Writing

Personal Essay

You have a choice of 7 prompts to choose from. Choose one from the list below:

Our advice would be to briefly write down the main outline of your response to each question. With this in mind, you can roughly compare the quality of your responses across all questions. Try not to overthink the process; choose the essay that gives you the right platform to best express yourself. Ultimately, this is where you have the opportunity to showcase your unique identity and personality.

Please also find https://collegelah.com/2014/08/07/how-to-write-successful-us-college-application-essays/ here some more detailed tips on writing US college application essays.

 

Disciplinary History

Honesty is the best policy! Do not be afraid if you have a tainted disciplinary record. This does not mean that you will be rejected solely based on this.

 Additional Information

It is not necessarily the case that your application would be in any way disadvantaged if this section is left unfilled. If there is nothing else to add, there is no need to include unnecessary details.

However, if you do wish to include additional information, here are examples of what could be added:

1) Description of the 11th extremely important activity (because you can only write about 10 activities in the previous section)

2) Clarification of extenuating circumstances –

“Took a gap year after Year 11 because …”

“SAT scores were unusually poor because…”

“Discontinued a music syllabus after Year 10 because…”

3) Information regarding yourself that you think the application will not be complete without. However, please do not continue your unfinished essay here.

That is pretty much the information you need to know in order to complete the Common App. Congratulations on completing this CommonApp section! The specific questions under each college tab should also be straightforward to you. As for the supplemental essays, don’t freak out! CollegeLAH essays editing services are here to help you!

Some extra tips: 

Recommenders

Under the tab of every college that you have added to the “My College”, there will be a subsection called “Recommendations and FERPA”. This is where you invite your teachers to be your counsellor and recommenders. You will need to go to each college tab to invite them manually and some basic information about your teachers here such as their full names, phone numbers, emails etc.

Normally, students will invite 1 counsellor together with 2 (or 3, although less likely) recommenders. If you’re studying in an American-styled school, you should have a designated school counsellor. Otherwise, this can be any teacher or academic staff member who has good knowledge and understanding of the non-academic aspects of you. Therefore, it is entirely up to you whether you want a teacher from your secondary school or one from your pre-U school to be your counsellor. Common App references are significantly different from what usual Malaysian references would be, so be sure that your counsellor knows about the writing style.

As for teacher recommendations, it is advisable to invite one teacher from a science subject and the other one from a humanities subject to showcase a broader picture of your overall performance in school. Likewise, you can also have non-academic referees e.g. sports coach, music tutor (more relevant for those applying for sports/music scholarships). Similarly,it is entirely up to you whether you want a teacher from your secondary school or one from your pre-U school to write your teacher recommendations.

Waiving your FERPA rights means that you agree legally not to have access to your references or transcripts and have your counsellor send them on your behalf. Please note that once your recommender is invited into your application for a particular university, his/her reference can also be used for all other universities you are applying.

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