There has been a lot of hoopla since the launch of the updated version of the Common Application, known as CA4 to those in the college admission world. For seniors filling it out this year for the first time you won’t notice the difference, but there have been some major changes to the form. The form is smarter, sleeker and less cumbersome than previous years, but there are some quirks with the system that if you don’t know from the onset, it could lead you into trouble.
Starting out on the landing page of the Common Application there are three tabs: Applicants, Members, and Recommenders. Make sure you have selected the appropriate tab or you will get a log-in error if you try to log in under the wrong tab.
The application is a “smart form” which means that based on your answers to certain questions it will skip some questions so that you only have to answer questions that pertain to your particular circumstance. For example, if you select “married” for your parents, the form won’t prompt you for step-parent information. However, it can cause you problems if you answer questions incorrectly as you won’t then have an opportunity to provide additional information later on in the form. Most questions do give the student a chance to go back and edit the answers.
College Specific Questions
As mentioned, because a student’s responses prompt which questions are asked, no college specific questions or supplemental essays will show up until you list a college in your account. To get a full picture of how many supplements you may need to write for all your Common Applications you must first enter all the colleges to which you plan to apply. At this time the Common App reports all but a handful of colleges have their supplements in the system. It is a good idea to list even the ones on your “maybe” list so you will have access to all the possible college questions and supplements. You can always go in later and delete schools to which you decide not to apply. Additional college specific questions and supplements will be listed under the specific colleges listed in the “My Colleges” tab.
Reordering the Activity List
Students may include up to ten activities in their Activity List. Once the information is entered you can reorder the list. However make sure you are in “edit” mode in the specific activity you want to move, then use the up/down arrows to move the item. If you use the arrows when not in edit mode for some reason the form deletes some of the information in that entry. Also make sure when you enter details, awards and accomplishments that you review what you entered as it not an unlimited text box so words will be cut off if the limit is reached.
As with the text boxes in other areas of the application, the personal essay and additional information section have set limits of 650 words. Formatting has also been an issue within the essay spaces, as what appears in the text box may be different than the formatting viewed in Print Preview. Suggestions for overcoming the Print Preview issue has been to change browsers or to paste the essay from a utility editing program such as Notepad into the essay text box. Extra spaces between words and paragraphs will be removed automatically but the use of bold, underline or italics in the text will not be erased.
FERPA Release Authorization
Before you can have transcripts sent on your behalf, assign a counselor or recommenders you need to sign the FERPA release. If a student does not waive their right, it would allow a student after matriculating to the college to view the recommendations in their application. You can find the release by selecting any college in your college list under the “My Colleges” tab. On the left-hand navigation bar for that college click on “Assign Recommenders” which will put you on the page with the link to the FERPA release. You will only have to sign the release once, however once you do so you will not be able to undo it and it can’t be reset so make sure you understand the ramifications of your answer. It is strongly suggested that you waive your right to see recommendations, because the college receiving the recommendations will know that the recommender was not influenced in their writing by the possibility of you viewing the recommendation. While some students may balk at the idea of giving up their rights to see a recommendation, if the students choose their recommenders wisely they should have no fears about what the recommendation will say about them.
With any new system there will be kinks that need to be worked out. The Common App is aware of many of the bugs in the system and has put up a Known Issues page that will identify areas where users have had problems and the status on each issue. In addition, if users run into difficulties they should click on the “Help Center” link to find answers to common questions and problems. If you can’t find a resolution for your issue within the “Knowledge Base” tab then you can open the “Ask a Question” tab and email for additional help.