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Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

(516) 362-1929

Update on the New Common Application & What You Need to Be Doing Right Now

There was a great deal of anticipation leading up to the August 1st launch of the Common Application, and now, if you’ve been checking out their Facebook page or Twitter feed, you’ll notice that there’s a lot frustration.

From my perspective, the biggest problem is that many of the college-specific supplemental essay requirements are not yet available.

You don’t actually have to be applying at this point, but you do need to be able to get a complete picture of all the essays you need to write so that you can think about them in relation to each other and make decisions about which essay topic works best for your general Common App essay and which ones are best for supplemental essays.


When I did a quick check this morning, I noticed that Brown’s supplement is available as is Cornell’s, but the University of Pennsylvania’s is not.

When looking for Penn’s supplement on the Common App site, I received the following message: “The writing supplement you are attempting to access is not yet ready for completion.”  However, I found the supplement when I went to Penn’s website:

The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals.  (400-650 words)

Also, there was at least one school that the Common App said doesn’t have a supplement even though it has in the past.  My hunch is that the school still has a supplement, it’s just not uploaded into the system yet.

The Common App team is working very hard to resolve all the kinks in this new, massive system, and they’re giving colleges some extra time to test their supplements before publishing them.

Here’s what I recommend. . . .

“Like” the Common App on Facebook so that you can stay on top of  what’s going on with the system.  Also, if you have questions or problems, go to the Applicant Help Center.

Some students posting on the Facebook page seem frantic about submitting their applications right now, but you know that there’s really no huge rush.


1. Research your top 8-10 schools.

You need to get beneath the surface details and develop a strong understanding of the core curriculum, the requirements in majors that appeal to you, special academic programs as well as internship and study abroad programs, faculty members, current student profiles, and alumni.

You need to do more than just have a technical knowledge of what the college offers students. You need to find things that are interesting to you and be able to articulate why they are significant to you.

Look closely at Penn’s supplement.  To provide them with a meaningful response, you need to really know the school and have a vision of how you can take advantage of the great opportunities and contribute to the community.  Many other top schools are looking for the same thing.

This research is absolutely essential for creating a strong college application package, so you need to set aside at least an hour to explore each school.

If you’re in the comprehensive Get Yourself Into College® program for juniors and seniors, make sure you watch the sessions in Module 5.  In these sessions, I provide you with step-by-step guidance in researching college websites to find the most valuable information.

2. Rank your schools and think about your application strategy in terms of early decision and early action.

The College Board has a useful page detailing the benefits and drawbacks of them. If you have access to Naviance, I encourage you to look at where you stand in relation to other students from your school who’ve gotten into (or been rejected from) your schools.

3.  Fill out your essay organization form so that you can start coming up with a strategic plan for your essay topics.

All students in the comprehensive Get Yourself Into College® program have this easy-to-use form, which will help you keep track of essays you need to write for college-specific supplements, scholarships, and honors programs.

Check the Common App site to see if the supplements are available.  If so, copy and paste the supplemental essay topics into your essay organization form.  If not, look at the college’s website and see if the supplemental essays for this admissions cycle are published.  If so, get them into your form.  If you can’t find the supplement or the Common App tells you there isn’t one, include this info in your form so that you can check back on a regular basis.

Information and deadlines for scholarships are found on the Financial Aid pages of college websites.  If you want to be eligible for major scholarships, you need to stay on top of these details and factor them into your application strategy.

Click here to see Tulane University’s information on the Deans’ Honor Scholarships, which are “merit-based scholarships offered to approximately 100 incoming first-time freshmen applicants” and “cover full tuition and are renewable for four years (five years for Architecture students) provided the student maintain a 3.00 cumulative grade point average and continuous enrollment in a full-time undergraduate division.”

Details about honors programs are sometimes accessible through the Admissions page, but most of the time, the easiest thing to do is use the college’s search bar to find the program and learn about any specific application requirements and deadlines.

4.  Finish your curriculum vitae so that you can give it to the teachers writing your recommendations and your guidance counselor. You can also bring your CV (which some people call your resume or activity worksheet) to college interviews.

5.  Review your essay organization form and curriculum vitae in relation to the new Common App essay prompts and start thinking about which question will grant admissions officers the most valuable and authentic insight into you and your character.


If you’re in the comprehensive Get Yourself Into College® program, you have a certain number of one-on-one sessions with me.

As you know, I’m here to help you with each part of your application (deciding on schools, ranking them, developing your curriculum vitae, brainstorming ideas about essays, reviewing and discussing essays, and so much more).

Scheduling your appointments is easy.  Click here to book a consultation.

If you’re not in the program, but would like to book a one-hour consultation, you can do so through my online scheduler.


Blog post image used: ©cristovao/