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Facebook Live Recap and Bonus Questions: Filling Out The Common Application

When you're ready to apply to college, where do you begin? In my recent Facebook Live Q&A, I talk about filling out the Common App and provide some tips and insights to help you along in the process.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of my Facebook Live Q&A: Filling Out The Common Application. Scroll down for a list of the questions I answered live, to watch a video of my session where I answer your questions and outline the brand new changes to the Common App, and to see some bonus questions that I didn't get to answer live!

  • What are the new changes to the Common App?
  • My son is entering 10th grade. Can he get started filling out the Common App?
  • How does one fill out one application to cover all the bases: reach school, safety, private, public, special-focus colleges, large universities, and the fact that you might be applying to different majors depending on the school?
  • Can you change your information once you have completed a tab? Can you make changes to the Common App after you have submitted it?
  • I am Asian (Chinese), and my husband is white. How should my daughter answer the race question in order to best position herself for acceptances at elite institutions and for merit scholarships at less selective colleges?
  • Regarding First Generation status, does that mean that neither parent has a degree, or that they never even took a class at a college? Does checking the First Generation box help or hurt (i.e., parents probably can't afford this school, etc.)?
  • The Honors section. If you haven't won the International Science Fair and already have a job waiting for you with NASA, what do you list here?
  • If a student has been on the honor roll one or two semesters should she include it under her awards or is it better not to because the GPA on the transcript makes it obvious for those semesters?
  • My daughter won the Bausch + Lomb scholarship nomination for our high school that is sponsored by the University of Rochester. Should she put this award on her Common App so other colleges can see she was selected and that she is a top student in science at our large high school? If she doesn't put it on the Common App, will the University of Rochester know she is one of the students in the running? 
  • Should we list the semifinalist status in both Biology & Chemistry Olympiads in EC or Academic honors?
  • What happens if you have more than five honors or awards to list?
  • Which tests do you include in the Testing section of the Common App?
  • What are best practices for self-reporting (or not) SAT/ACT scores within the Common App when applying to schools with different standardized test policies?
  • How do you determine what order to list a student's honors & activities?
  • Are there really only 10 spots to list activities? What if you run out of room? Should you attach a resume?
  • What do you list in the Activities section?
  • Given a 150 character limit on activity description, any advice on how to word it? Should it be written in first person?
  • How do you pick the best essay prompt and how do you make a generic question personal?
  • Should there be a title to the personal statement/essay for the Common App or any of the supplements?
  • What are the college supplements?
  • Is there a way to see what supplemental essays certain schools require before starting on their application?
  • My son plans on applying to schools that have a additional application process to get into the business school. What are the additional requirements needed to apply to business school?
  • Any suggestions on how to approach it when a college asks you to elaborate on one of your extracurricular experiences?
  • Do colleges know when you start the Common App?
  • Do colleges know where else you have applied?
  • Is there something really important that we should know about the Common App before we fill it out?


1. Do we have to pay for every single college applied to or do we pay a one-time application fee?

Each college has a different policy on application fees. You must do it individually for each college you apply. A lot of colleges are waiving the application fee for some or all students, though.

2. What's the best time to submit the FAFSA? Before submitting the Common App or after?

Since it's now available as of October 1st, send it in as soon as possible. Colleges usually have recommended dates for when they want the FAFSA, so check out the individual sites for more details.

3. If a college doesn't require a teacher recommendation letter, should you include one anyway?

Colleges with very large applicant pools often do not require a recommendation letter. They just can't handle the volume of extra materials. If it's not required, you don't need to send it. If it's encouraged but not required, I'd send it.