The Common App and Coalition App are available now. It’s summer (at least here in Oregon it’s still summer), so why should you care? Looking now can give students a fuller sense of all the pieces they’ll need to assemble for their applications. Based on our experience and recommendations from guidance counselors, I’d suggest starting with the Common App.

Here are a few things to do:

Find the colleges you’re interested in applying to in the Common App’s search feature. Note any that don’t appear so you can find out how to apply to them. If not all of your colleges appear in the Common App, repeat this step with the Coalition App to see if one or the other application lets you apply to all of your schools.

Once you’ve found all of your schools and added them to your application (My Colleges in the Common App), you can click through each one to see its application and essay requirements by clicking on each college in the My Colleges section.

We found it helpful to create a spreadsheet of colleges that included net price, types of financial aid offered, application due dates and costs, application requirements (e.g., some take a general counselor recommendation; others want recommendations from specific types of teachers such as one STEM and one humanities), and essay questions. With respect to essay questions, writing the questions in the spreadsheet can be helpful in identifying common questions such as each school’s variation on, “Why here?” In creating the spreadsheet, make sure that you find the relevant info for any colleges that aren’t on the Common App, whether they require the Coalition App or their own.

Seeing all of this information in one place might help narrow down the list a bit, or you may decide that outside help is needed. My daughter struck several schools from her list upon seeing all the essays she’d need to write, and we ended up hiring an essay coach to manage the writing process. My son realized that he didn’t need counselor recommendations and he could do early action to both of his schools, but he did need to get his online transcript because one of his schools required him to enter courses and grades in the Common App.

Both applications have limited space for activities, so reviewing the format now can help students be more thoughtful about how best to present their extracurriculars. You might see this as either a laundry list or an opportunity to show who you are in a way that supports your personal essay.

And of course, if you haven’t done so already, look at the essay prompts! Both have been out since this spring so students may be familiar with them already– and they don’t change significantly from year to year. Many seniors will write their personal essay in their English class senior year; even so, familiarizing oneself with the prompts over the summer will help get that process started. Common App essay prompts are here; Coalition here.

Students who will need to complete both the Common App and Coalition App might want to review the differences between the two to determine if one or the other might be a better fit, and the answer might differ for different colleges. Many guidance counselors and consultants encourage students to use the Common App wherever possible simply because, based on its longer history and wider acceptance, admissions personnel are more familiar with it and thus more likely to “find” the information you’ve entered.