Generally speaking, most colleges consider GPA, extracurricular involvements, letters of recommendation, essay responses, and ACT/SAT scores equally important, each contributing roughly 20% to the application’s strength. As such, it is important to continuously think about these areas throughout high school by consistently achieving high grades, by being involved in a variety of activities, by forming positive relationships with teachers and coaches, and by mastering study and test-taking strategies. Check out this guide for College Preparation (During High School).

Most colleges are on the Common Application now. Just go to and set up an account. There is a required essay for the Common App. I recommend that student start working on this essay during the summer before their senior year. Students can choose one from 7 possible essay topics and write a maximum of 650 words. The prompts to choose from are:

Common Application Prompts:

1. 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.
2. 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?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. 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.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. 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?
7. 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.

Check out our YouTube tutorial about the Common App Personal Statement.

Many college also ask for additional short-response and/or essay questions. You can find these by looking under the “My Colleges” tab at each college for a “Written Supplement,” “Questions,” or “Other Information” section.

Early Decision/Action deadlines are in October-December, depending on the school. Students usually receive an admission decision from these colleges in December-February. Regular Decision deadlines are in January-March, with notices received in March-May. Applying for Early Decision/Action may improve a student’s chance of being accepted. If accepted, it also increases the amount of time available to look for housing and prepare for college.