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2020-21 Common Application Guide

2020-21 Common Application Guide

The Common Application is officially open for the 2020-21 college application season, and there are several changes that high school seniors should be aware of as they embark on their college admissions journey this fall.

The Common Application is the most widely used application for college admissions in the US. For the 2019-20 application season, over 1 million first-year college applicants from 213 countries and territories submitted over 5.6 million applications using the Common App. While there are other alternative applications like the Coalition app, students are most likely to use the Common App when applying.

At IvyWise, our goal is to make the college application process as stress-free and transparent as possible. This means keeping families abreast of the latest college admissions news and trends and breaking down what students need to know about the Common App each year. Here’s what students need to know about the 2020-21 Common App.

2020-21 Common App Essay Prompts

While a lot of changes have come to the Common App this year, the essay prompts for the 2020-21 Common App have remained the same. Here are the Common App essay prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle:

  • 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 obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Common App COVID-19 Question

Students across the globe have been directly impacted by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many confused about how they will communicate to colleges the challenges they faced this school year. The Common App announced in May that it will add a COVID-19 question to the Additional Information section, where students can elaborate on how the pandemic affected them personally and academically. This section will have a 250-word limit.

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Students should use this space to provide any additional context directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a shift in responsibilities at home, illness, loss, academic impacts, and more. This will NOT replace the current Additional Information section, where students can provide context on circumstances not captured elsewhere in the application.

New Common App Member Colleges

The Common Application is used by over 900 colleges and universities in the US and abroad. This year, the Common App added 42 new member colleges. Major additions include the University of Georgia, Auburn University, Clemson University, and Virginia Tech, among others.

Tips for the Common App

When completing your Common Application, it’s important to take your time and be thoughtful about every piece of information you’re providing to colleges. This application is, after all, your means to present yourself to your top-choice school so you want to maximize every section. Here are a few things to keep in mind while working on your Common App this fall:

  • Start ASAP! Ideally, most students will have started to fill out the Common App and worked on their personal statements in advance of the Common App launch on Aug. 1. However, that’s not the case for everyone. If you haven’t already, create your Common App account and start to fill out each section in order to get the tedious personal information out of the way. You’ll be thankful to have the bulk of this work out of the way once the school year starts this fall.
  • Be thoughtful about your personal statement. This is your chance to tell universities something new about you that can’t be found anywhere else in the application, so take your time brainstorming, drafting, and refining your personal statement. The prompts are broad, so take your time identifying the right prompt for you and ensure that your personal statement properly addresses it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your college counselor for help identifying a topic and refining your essay.
  • Strategically fill out the Activities section. Extracurricular activities are about quality – not quantity. When filling out the Activties section of your Common App, list your activities in order of importance to you, putting your most impactful and meaningful activities at the top of the list. If there are any activities on your list that you only participated in once, or that you did for a year or two and stopped, leave them off. Be as detailed as possible when describing your involvement in these activities. Mention any leadership positions or initiatives and how you have made an impact.
  • Context is key! Especially in light of disrupted activities, grades, summer programs and more due to COVID-19, students should provide as much context as possible where appropriate. This includes taking advantage of the new COVID-19 question, the Additional Information section, and being as detailed as possible in the Activities section.

At IvyWise, we know that applying to college is an exciting (but sometimes stressful!) journey for high school seniors. With the current pandemic and uncertainty about the school year, testing, and more, it may be more stressful than ever. We’re here to help with any questions or concerns that families may encounter along the way. We can help students with all aspects of the college admissions process, from creating a balanced college list all the way to ensuring that their Common App is ready for submission. We can also provide guidance on how students will be read this year in light of the current COVID-19 disrupting the usual admissions milestones, and what students can do to present their best selves when applying during an atypical admissions cycle. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for high school seniors.

Check out our 2020-21 College Prep and Admissions Guide for more tips and insights into how students can prepare for the admissions process this fall.