Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Guiding Your Students Through the New Common Application

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s been almost a month since Common Application released their brand new application,
CA4.  With most schools still not in session, August has been a good month for a few students to test out the new version and come across many of the bugs and conflicts that are part of any new Web site, even one that’s been tested for a long time…

…and that’s good news for you and your students.  As you welcome your seniors back for a year of great growth, here are the key areas you’ll want to focus in on with the new Common App.  If you give your students a heads up on these, you’ll avoid a lot of confusion later on down the road.

FERPA Release  Students must sign their FERPA waiver as part of using Common Application.  This year, that waiver is on Common App for all users, and it’s pretty easy to complete.  Students to into their Common App account.  Under Education, they click the My Colleges section, and enter at least one college.  After that, they click Assign Recommenders, and the FERPA form will appear— they complete it by waiving their right, and they’re all set. 

As is always the case, it is important for students to know that once they fill this form and Submit it, the form cannot be changed, even if the student hasn’t sent in a college application.  Students will want to make sure to complete this early step correctly.

Copying and pasting essays from Microsoft Word  The other big issue that’s come up has to do with essays.  Most counselors tell students NOT to type their essays directly into Common App, and with good reason.  Using a word processing program allows the student to check for typing and grammar mistakes using the same tools they have access to for all of their other school work, and that increases the chances the college essays will be proofread correctly.

The challenge comes when students are trying to copy their essays into Common App from Microsoft Word.  Many students report that the essays seem to transfer over smoothly, but when they Preview the essay, they see blank spaces, missing lines, or computer code that turns some (or all) of their essay into hieroglyphics.

The easiest cure that’s been discovered so far is for students to Copy their Microsoft Word essays into Notepad, the very basic word processing program that comes on most PCs.  Once it’s Pasted into Notepad, the computer code from Word is cleaned off; students then hit Copy from Notepad and Past into Common App, and everything is fine. Common App will undoubtedly come up with a better fix, but for now, that’s the best thing to do.

Common App and Naviance  For high schools that use Naviance to keep track of student applications, the new Common App seems to be blending in well with Naviance.  At the same time, this is a new group of seniors, and every high school using Naviance has their own policies about how Teacher Recommenders and College Lists are added.  If you haven’t already done so, put together a list of Naviance procedures, and share those with your students—and set up a time in the computer lab after school to guide students through the challenges they may run into.

There are always a few bumps in the first steps of a new endeavor—either in applying to college this year, or going to college next year.  With a little patience, you can set the example of flexibility that will benefit your students for years to come.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The New Common Application is Here!

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The New Common Application is Here!

August 1 is the big day, when the new version of Common Application debuts.  Known as CA4, this new version of Common App offers the same benefits of using one basic form to apply to hundreds of colleges, while offering streamlined technological advances, and some new guidelines for the much-heralded college essay.

It’s easy to understand why some students are looking forward to the CA4 launch like Obi-wannabes line up for a new Star Wars film, but there are some important precautions to keep in mind as well:

Keep the big picture in mind  The buzz around CA4 is strong, and applying to college is a pretty exciting thing all by itself.  But thereason you’re applying is because you’d like to attend that college—and that only happens if your application is good, not fast.  Not a single one of the 517 colleges on Common App has an application deadline in August, and no one gets bonus points for being the first to apply.  Before you hit Submit, make sure your work is thorough, thoughtful, and a complete reflection of who you are.

Waive your right to see your letters  This is especially true when Common App asks you if you want to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation.  Many students view this as a great opportunity to exercise their right to know, and check Do Not Waive.  You’re free to do that, but some teachers—and even some colleges—see this as suspect; why would a student not trust someone they’ve asked to write for them?  Besides, you’d only get to see the letters at the college that admits you—and once you’re in, does the letter really matter anymore?  Waive the right, and make your declaration of independence somewhere else on the application…

Big brother can’t help you much now   …like here.  The changes to CA4 are big enough that the well-meaning advice of a sibling who filled out the old Common App can help very little, and hurt a great deal.  This is especially true with the one essay required on the new application—different prompts are used, and the word limit is real.  If you’re looking to make applying to college your own experience, do it here; write your own essay, ask one or two people to read it, and follow these simple guidelines.

Be patient  Common App has worked very hard to make sure all students will have a great application experience on CA4.  They’ve even tested the application several times—just not with hundreds of thousands of students at the same time.  In addition, some colleges are still fine-tuning their supplemental pages, and Common App has said some of these supplemental pages may not be ready by on time (I know—colleges are missing an application deadline.  Ironic, right?)

This is why it’s important to remember everyone means well.  If something doesn’t work, tell Common App.  If a college’s page doesn’t quite look right, DON’T be the memorable student who calls the college and says “What’s up with your Common App supplement?”  You’ll be memorable at that college, for sure—but for all the wrong reasons.  Instead, wait a day; if it still looks bad, tell Common App.

You and Common App have a mutual goal—to help you submit the best possible application.  Keep that in mind, and if the CA4 newness leaves you anxious, wait until August 18 to apply.  CA4 will still be there, no one will have been admitted by then, and a friend or two can walk you through it.