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6 things you need to know about the 2014-15 Common Application

High Point University is among the new members of the Common Application for 2014-15.
High Point University is among the new members of the Common Application for 2014-15.
Nancy Griesemer

Application season is getting into full swing. Starting with the 2014-15 launch of the Universal College Application (UCA) on July 1, followed by the Common App on August 1, individual colleges and groups of colleges have already hit the internet with a variety of electronic applications and application requirements.

Because online application submission can be a complicated process with lots of twists and turns, the wise applicant should pay close attention to each set of rules and keep track of bothersome details such as system requirements, passwords, and user names.

And before getting started, it always pays to read whatever instructions are provided and get familiar with how each system moves individual applications toward successful submission.

In the case of the 2014-15 Common Application, here are 6 things you should know:

1. Format. Effective last year, the Common Application became an entirely online application. There is no good paper alternative, as each student experiences the application differently depending on answers to questions activating drop down menus or other built-in “triggers.” While annoying for some, the loss of the paper format is the direct result of the innovative "smart technology" introduced through the CA4 last year.
Hint: Some non-exclusive Common App members also provide paper versions of their applications. Because these applications sometimes contain additional or slightly different information about the application process, they may be worth reviewing.

2. System Requirements. The Common App is accessed via a web browser over the Internet. To learn which operating systems and browsers are supported, click on “System Requirements” at the bottom of the main page of the application. Regardless of browser used, be sure that “cookies” are enabled and popup blockers are disabled. And in case you think you might need tech support, add appsupport@commonapp.net to your safe sender list.
Hint: Don’t hesitate to change computers if problems persist. It’s sometimes easier to surrender rather than spend lots of time fighting systems issues.

2. Registration. Before you begin the Common Application, you will need to register. If you registered before August 1, 2014, you will have to re-register for the 2014-15 application. This isn’t complicated, but you will need to come up with a password that is between 8 and 16 characters, has at least one upper and one lower case alphabetic character, and at least one numeric (1,2,3, etc.) and one non-alpha-numeric (*, &, !, $, etc.) character. And you need to make sure you provide a working email address—preferably one you check regularly. Registration is also where you provide permission for the Common App to give your contact information to colleges. If you agree to the information-sharing, expect to receive mail from colleges on your list.
Hint: Placing a college on your “My Colleges” list may be a form of “demonstrated interest.”

3. Essay Prompts. One of the biggest changes in this year’s application involves the location of essay prompts on the Common App. Some are clearly located in the section labeled “Writing Supplement,” but others tucked into member-specific “Questions.” In order to gain access or make sure you are seeing all full-blown essay or short answer questions—if offered—you must first complete all the college-specific questions.
Hint: Some of the college questions act as “triggers” for both the Writing Supplement or essay prompts in the body of the application. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete these questions as you may be in for an unpleasant surprise in the form of additional writing requirements.

4. Green Checks. Green checks are awarded once individual sections of the Common Application are fully complete. You will not be able to submit your application without a full complement of these checks. But they can be a little touchy at times. If all required questions appear complete for a particular series of questions and the checks don’t automatically appear, try clearing a couple of questions and then click the continue button to save changes. Go back into the section, replace the answers, then re-click the continue button. Hopefully toggling the system will solve the problem and you will be rewarded with all the green checks you need to proceed to submission.
Hint: If you see a green check mark for any section that you have not completed already, it is because that section is not required for submission.

5. FERPA Waiver. The Common App recommender system offers counselors, teachers and others a tool for tracking students and submitting school forms online. But before this system kicks in, all applicants must complete the FERPA Release Authorization, which waives the rights of applicants to see letters of recommendations. Applicants at high schools not using Naviance to control the recommendation process may complete the FERPA Release Authorization from within their Common App accounts by clicking the Assign Recommenders tab for any college on the My Colleges list [students in Naviance schools have a slightly different process]. Note that the waiver is completed only once and covers all current and future colleges and recommenders. Once a student invites a counselor or recommender, the FERPA section locks and cannot be changed. You cannot change your mind.
Hint: Applicants are free not to waive their rights to access letters of recommendation, but be aware that the choice to not agree to the FERPA release authorization could have a significant impact on what recommenders write and how colleges view your application.

6. Print Preview. The Common Application requires applicants to complete an application and begin the submission process before being offered the opportunity to Print Preview their work. Don’t let this hang you up. And don’t be confused by what appears in text boxes or on the “working version” of your application. Simply work through an application, answer college-specific questions, paste in your personal statement and additional information (if appropriate), and invite recommenders. Then begin the submission process. A PDF will appear which you can save and/or print out. If there are errors in the application you wish to correct, you may stop the process and go back and make corrections. But after you have actually submitted an application, you cannot go back and make corrections on that document. You may only change it for future submissions.
Hint: Once you submit your first application, you will only have two opportunities to change your personal statement for typos and content—up to three separate versions are currently allowed by the Common App (the UCA has no such restrictions).

The Common App is using Facebook and Twitter, in addition to the Help Center and a growing Knowledgebase to answer questions and keep applicants, their families and advisers up-to-date on changes, revisions, and improvements to the application. In another month, recommenders will be given an opportunity to use live chat support to find answers to their questions.

In the meantime, everyone should feel free to direct questions to the Help Center, as it helps inform the technical staff of issues average users encounter while completing the application.

And you may find your particular problem is easily resolved.