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Demystifying the Common Application

Main Application: The Main Application provides much of the information that the admissions officers use.  Here are the main areas where you have an opportunity to elaborate on your Branded Elements:

Academic Info: There is plenty of space to communicate your academic abilities in the application and through the SAT scores. So we should not mention this in essays and short answer questions.

Activity List: The most frustrating part of this is that the application does not allow you that much space at all. We will need to find the most efficient use of language to impart the message. If this is not enough, we will elaborate in the Additional Comments Section.

Activity Essay: This has changed this year, and will not be on the main application unless a specific school wants it, but you should still write up your main activities in short 150 word descriptions as you will use those somewhere. The temptation here is to write about more than one activity. They specifically ask you to describe ‘one’ activity, and since following directions is very important, you should stick to one. You can write multiple essays for this and then decide which to use.

Main Application Essay: A very important part of the application, but also the part of the application that you will find fun to work on. The idea here is that if you have organized and linked your Tangible Activities with your Branded elements, then you can see what areas you might be able to add to your Main Essay. The key is not to be obvious about it. You want to ‘[show’, not ‘tell’, in your essay. My advice on the main essay is to find a story that you want to tell, a story that has YOU at the center of it as the protaganist. But don’t worry too much about whether you are ‘selling’ yourself in this essay, you have that opportunity through the other parts of the application. Surprise the admissions officer here with the confidence to tell them a ‘real’ story about you, just a slice of life or snapshot of your life. Take the opportunity to show them your descriptive writing, your humor or empathy. And most importantly, have fun with it.

Additional Comments: Here, we can elaborate on any areas that you feel you did not do justice to in the other areas of the application. You can actually add those other activities that you wrote about here – anything that needed more description than you had in the activity list.


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Prab Singh heads CollegeSource (http://thecollegesource.net/), an organisation that provides life coaching to adolescents and support to their family through the process of deciding their higher education and career goals.

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