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Common Application 2013-2014 Essay Format Update: Hallelujah, We Have Paragraphs!

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For an even more recent update on this news, see our Paragraphs and Print Preview post, updated on Nov 7, 2013!

When the 2013-2014 Common Application was initially released, we were warned that the essay section would bear some new restrictions. The “Choose Your Own Topic” essay would be gone. Students would be held to a tightly enforced word count maximum of 650. Document attachments would no longer be accepted, forcing students to work within a text box that supported limited formatting including only bolding, italicizing, underlining and, strangely, the use of just one paragraph break.

Very early on, the complaints via internet message boards and application help centers revealed the folly in this one break paragraph plan. We can assure you, over the decade in which we have been helping students with their college admissions essays, we have never seen a thoughtful, well-structured, 650-word entrance essay that limited itself to two paragraphs. The Common App has since claimed they never meant to implement a one paragraph break rule, pointing out a formatting function that allowed students to use single-return paragraphs; a feature that lent applicants the ability to submit awkwardly formatted essays, devoid of tabs and line space breaks. Like this:

Where ignorance lurks, so too do the frontiers of discovery and imagination. There can be no thought of finishing for ‘aiming for the stars.’ Both figuratively and literally, it is a task to occupy the generations. And no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.
Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10.

Science cuts two ways, of course; its products can be used for both good and evil. But there’s no turning back from science. The early warnings about technological dangers also come from science.The regret on our side is, they used to say years ago, we are reading about you in science class. Now they say, we are reading about you in history class.

Can you find the paragraph breaks without breaking into a migraine? Neither can the admissions essay readers.

This morning, to the delight of frustrated students and college essay advisors everywhere, testing of the Common Application revealed a new development.  Real paragraphs! Separated by actual line spaces!

Achieving this new format and confirming that paragraph breaks make it to the final phase of your application is not completely intuitive. After pasting an essay into the Common App essay text box and adjusting for resulting formatting issues (of which there are many, as it seems Word and Google Docs formatting is not supported by the Common App program), a student must manually insert each paragraph break. These spaces will not be evident within the saved text box, and the final essay will appear much like the example of single-return formatting above. In order to confirm that paragraph line breaks have actually been added in the appropriate places, students need to view a PDF print preview of the essay, which is accessible only as part of the active submission process.  What. A. Pain. Still, the tool is available to students, and we suggest they use it. The step-by-step process should go something like this:

  1. To access the PDF print preview, you must first fill out all sections of the Common Application. Before attempting to preview the essay via submission, make sure each section has been marked with a green check box indicating completion of all requirements.
  2. Enter a school’s application from the list in the dashboard. You may want to add a random school specifically for testing reasons. The testing process will be infinitely easier if this school has no additional supplement requirements.
  3. Fill out all the data for this test school. You will then be able to start the submission process.
  4. Hit “Submit” to access a PDF print preview option. Scroll to the bottom of the application to find the Common App essay, and check it thoroughly to ensure spacing and formatting is all properly applied.
  5. If you need to make changes to the essay post-preview, you must exit the submission process. There are multiple ways to halt submission, but since you will be experimenting so close to the final stage of the application process, we do recommend again that the Common App essay be previewed through the lens of a test school.

This is what you should see in your PDF print preview:

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Isn’t it beautiful?

Back To School seems to have kick started a host of last-minute revisions to the online Common Application, and we are committed to staying on top of the latest updates. Check our blog regularly for more information and for fun essay writing tips and tricks that will help you craft a more interesting and effective personal statement, now complete with paragraphs!

Done drafting? Don’t forget to proofread!

It’s time to start your Supplemental Essays.

Contact us for a free, 15-minute consultation.

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