The Common App: Activities and Recommenders Sections

Moving on from our overview of the Common App online portal in the previous post, I want to address some typical areas of confusion concerning how to fill out the Common Application itself. The application is mostly self-explanatory; however, students typically have questions for me when filling out the Recommenders and FERPA as well as the Activities sections.

The Recommenders and FERPA section:

This section is located under each individual College that you have added to your “My Colleges” list. Please see this link, which will highlight all that you will need to know to properly complete this section.

The Activities Section:

You may list up to 10 activities and may include a short description of accomplishments and recognitions within each activity. Before you start the activities section, sit down with your resume or a blank sheet of paper and start listing the 10 (or less) activities within which you were the most involved or accomplished. Once you have a list of activities, write about each summarizing your accomplishments and/or your involvement. You have a 150-character limit, so make sure every character counts by making your statement as concise and direct as possible. In this statement, use action words like “Co-created,” “Maintained,” “Organized,” and “Represented,” keeping the statement impactful and results-oriented. (see: word bank below). Colleges want to know what you’ve done, so make sure you convey depth in your involvement and results as your accomplishments. Here are a few examples:

“Competed in Model UN senior year, placing fourth nationally and first in women; elected president junior and senior year.”

“Educated children about the voting process as their parents vote during local, state, and national elections; led team of 6 other volunteers.”

“Led team on and off the field; encouraged all players; chosen by team as Captain junior and senior year; head of recruitment with coach.”

After drafting your descriptions, the last step is to figure out how many hours a week you spent on each activity, how many weeks per year (36 weeks in a school year), and which years you participated in that activity. This should all be pretty simple to procure, and remember that estimations are okay as long as they aren’t unfounded exaggerations.

While initially overwhelming, with all of this information in hand, you are ready to plug in your activities into the Common App. When you done, please make an appointment with me so that we can review your Common Application together.

Word Bank

Leadership Collaborative

The Updated 2017-18 Common Application: Outside Advisor Access, Self-Reported Transcripts, and Spanish Language Resources

In addition to changes in essay prompts and new Google Drive compatibility, the Common App has added outside advisor access, self-reported transcripts, and Spanish language resources. Outside advisor access will encourage greater oversight on my part of student application completion, and self-reported transcripts will allow students to communicate their academic history to colleges without having to wait for their high school transcripts to be processed, sent, and delivered to their choice colleges. For those who need it, Spanish language resources will open the Common App to a wider audience of applicants, providing clarity for those whom English is not their first language.

Reprinted from IvyWise College Admissions Blog:

Outside Advisor Access

Now, students who work with independent consultants, community-based organizations, or other advisors will be able to collaborate with them within the Common Application system just like they would with a regular recommender or their school-based counselor. This will allow students to share a view of their application while they’re working on it in order to get feedback and suggestions from whoever is advising them through this process.

Self-Reported Transcripts

The new Courses and Grades section will allow students to fill out self-reported transcripts directly into the Common Application. This feature will be available when the new application opens on August 1, 2017.

Spanish Language Resources

For families that speak Spanish as their primary language, a number of important resources on the Common Application as well as how to apply to college, how to apply for financial aid, and more will be translated into Spanish in order to help students and parents better understand the application process.

The Updated 2017-18 Common Application: Revised Essay Prompts and Google Drive Integration

With the updated Common App, we have for the third year in a row an expanded offering of essay prompts for the personal statement section. With the addition of 2 new prompts, including the return of the “Topic of your choice” prompt previously removed 3 years ago, students have more flexibility to tell their story and showcase their abilities, choosing the structure or prompt that best enables them to express their narrative. Additionally, Google Drive functionality has been integrated into the Common App, allowing students to easily transfer their documents into the app, including resumes, personal statements, and supplemental materials.

Reprinted from IvyWise College Admissions Blog:

Revised Essay Prompts

Here are the 2017-18 Common App essay prompts:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. REVISED: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. REVISED: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. REVISED: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. NEW: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. NEW: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Closing the Gender Gap: Liberal Arts Colleges Where Gender Plays a Part in Admissions

Traditionally, liberal arts colleges have attracted more female applicants than male applicants, and this reflects in their gender-specific admissions rates. Unlike universities, top liberal arts almost exclusively favor male applicants.

The following lists were originally published by the Washington Post as part of their “Grade Point” coverage. To look at statistics for more colleges, please click here.


Liberal Arts Colleges with a Gender Gap Favoring Men:

College Admissions Rate Gender Gap
Vassar College 19% of women

34% of men

15 points
Wheaton of Illinois 64% of women

77% of men

13 points
College of the Holy           Cross 39% of women

49% of men

10 points
Davidson College 19% of women

26% of men

7 points
Bates College 23% of women

28% of men

5 points
Pomona College 10% of women

15% of men

5 points
Swarthmore College 15% of women

20% of men

5 points

Early Applications: Decoding the Deadlines

There are five main types of deadlines in college admissions: Early Decision, Restrictive Early Action (REA), Priority, Early Action, and Regular Decision. Early Decision is a binding admission offer, meaning if someone applies early decision to a particular college, he or she must commit to attend that school if accepted. This is a good option for students who are absolutely certain they know exactly which college they want attend. Early Decision applicants can also apply to any other non-binding Early Action colleges. If accepted under the Early Decision program, a student must withdraw any other applications to other colleges that have been made under non-binding application programs. Essentially this means that student loses the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from multiple colleges. Restrictive Early Action is another option similar to Early Decision and also allows students to apply non-binding Early Action Programs at other schools. The difference is that if accepted, students are able to defer commitment to that school until May 1, thus allowing students to compare financial aid offers. Restrictive Early Action is generally less common than Early Decision programs, but is occasionally found at some highly selective institutions. As opposed to Restrictive Early Action, Early Action deadlines, sometimes known as Priority Deadlines, are common among public and private universities. These deadlines are helpful for students who are applying for financial aid. Early Action applicants generally enjoy a higher rate of acceptance than regular decision candidates. Most schools that have an Early Action or Priority Deadline only consider early candidates for academic merit scholarships. Most Priority Deadlines are nonbinding, so a student can apply early without the commitment and financial binds faced by Early Decision applicants. The Regular Decision deadline is the absolute application deadline and the final round of acceptances. The main benefit to applying Regular Decision is that it allows for a student to finish their application later in the year, and occasionally it can be an applicant’s only viable option when a school offers only Early Decision and no additional Early deadline option.