Well, the Common App dropped on August 1. A million students and some 900 colleges will be using it again this year. Every August 1 it becomes available. Colleges are welcome to change their requirements. For instance, they may alter their supplemental essay prompts. I always recommend that my students complete as much of the application as they can in August before school begins and they’re busy with classes and possibly sports. Especially if they’re thinking of applying early anywhere.

Create an Account 

What should you be doing in August? For starters, you should create an account. Unlike FAFSA (financial aid), only you the student will need to have an account. Use your name as it appears on school documents. Make sure you provide an email that you check often. Colleges will send emails to that address. You may want to use a personal address because high school email accounts have been known to filter out emails from colleges.

Build a College List

It’s very easy to add colleges. You can add a college using the add button in the search results list. You can also select a particular college and add them using the “Add to My Colleges” button. You can filter for state, distance from a zip code, and various requirements. You may want to avoid supplemental essays. You may feel it’s a hassle to obtain two teacher recommendations. Once you’ve added your colleges, you can view them on your Dashboard and in your My Colleges tab. You may only add up to 20 colleges. You may adjust your list of colleges at any time up until when you submit them.

Fill in Classes and Grades

The Common App requires education information from you. It may seem laborious, but you have to fill in your transcript basically. Make sure you do it accurately. Make sure you list each course by the exact name it appears on your transcript. Be sure to indicate if it is honors level, dual enrollment, AP, etc. This self-reported transcript allows schools to consider students earlier for various programs and scholarships before receiving transcripts. The official transcript will verify what’s been self-reported. Some schools require a SRAR (Self-Reported Academic Record). This means creating another account. Some schools even have their own version of SRAR.

Fill in Your Activities 

School clubs and sports obviously count. But also work experiences and family obligations matter and should be included. Any sort of enrichment experience, such as HOBY or Boys/Girls State, is important to mention. Any sort of interesting hobby or pursuit is helpful. Church activity and scouting activity are still impressive. Be descriptive. You have 150 characters for each of ten activities. It’s important to prioritize and describe them effectively. What were your roles and responsibilities? Leadership roles and special recognitions are very important. Were you Most Improved on your team? That shows positive attitude and perseverance.

Look Over the Essay Prompts 

They’re the same that they were last year. But you’ve been busy. My hope is that your summer has been productive and fun. That’s okay. You’ve got time to absorb the prompts, consider each, pick one, and start brainstorming an approach. In the process you may scratch it and pick another prompt. That’s fine. In August and through the early fall, you have plenty of time.

Before You Go Back to School 

Consider what teachers you might want to recommend you. Your junior year teachers remember you best. They had you in honors classes. Your senior year teachers are just getting to know you. As a former long-time teacher, I remember how hard it is to write recommendations. Give them plenty of time. Approach them early after you get back to school. Invite them in the Recommenders and FERPA section of your My Colleges tab. Gently remind the teachers periodically.

Your Private Counselor 

If you have one, you can invite the counselor as an advisor in the Recommenders and FERPA section. All you need is your counselor’s email. Your parent(s) may have an account but only to see general information from colleges and universities, such as application deadlines. You may invite your parent to be an advisor. Advisors cannot alter the application in any way. They only have reading privileges.

Do as much as you can before school starts!