Start Considering the Common App Now

It Could be a Busy Fall for 2017 H.S. Grads

For the longest time the college application process has had a certain rhythm to it. College visits were scheduled during the summer prior to senior year, college applications were submitted in the fall, and the FAFSA was filed in January. That worked well enough, but it put quite a time lag between early admission acceptances and financial aid awards. This made it difficult for some students to make an informed financial choice when deciding on a college.

Some felt they had to accept an early admission offer to get into a favored college, and were then surprised when the financial aid award wasn’t quite as much as has been hoped.

That timeframe will be dramatically different this year as the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year will be online beginning October 1, 2016. Students who wish to apply for early action or early decision will now be able to factor financial aid awards into their final college choice. This change could coincide with some college application deadlines, though, which could put added stress on students and parents. Some colleges start accepting applications as early as October, and will probably adjust their financial aid deadlines accordingly. To alleviate some of this concern, current high school juniors had best be advised to start looking at the Common App requirements now.

The Common App is used by over 600 colleges, so it is a good bet that yours will be included, but check each college’s website to be sure.

The latest version of the application usually comes online beginning August 1. In previous years, that meant that existing information would be wiped out and each application would start fresh. In another new twist for this year, students can also take advantage of a Common App Account Rollover. This means that applicant accounts created during the 2015-2016 application period will now roll over to 2016-2017.

Although intended as a learning tool, and not a means of completing the entire college application, this flexibility will give current high school juniors some insights into what will be required.

Be aware that not all of your data will carry over from one year to the next, so save the information which you will need after August 1. The Common App will preserve answers to questions you answer in the six “Common App” tabs: Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities, and Writing. The Common App will not preserve any information you may enter for college-specific questions and writing supplements, so make sure that information is saved separately and readily available. In general it is a good idea to try to save all of your information in a separate location in case of computer glitches on either end, but at the very least be sure to save these documents. Other information that will not carry over includes:

  • Your Release Authorization and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) selection.
  • Any invitations, assignments, and forms for your recommenders.
  • Any uploaded PDFs of Common Applications and Writing Supplements previously submitted.
  • Responses to questions that have been removed or have a different format since the prior year. This will specifically apply to results in the testing section.

    Since accounts created this year will rollover in August, you can get a head start creating a Common App account now. Add possible schools to your list so you can search through their application requirements. Look for supplemental requirements that your prospective colleges or desired major need in addition to the application itself. Make use of the Requirements Grid and download the Requirements Tracker worksheet to ensure you’re ready to submit everything on time.

    If your schools require a personal essay as part of the application process, start thinking about that now as well. The 2016-17 Common App Essay Prompts will remain the same as they were this year:


    • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
    • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
    • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
    • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
    • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

    With the FAFSA available in October and schools with early decision deadlines as early as November, it makes sense to prepare as much information as possible in advance to avoid a last-minute rush this fall.