Those Pesky Member Questions

They might look simple... but can come back to bite you
December 1, 2016

If you’ve been following our plan to get your college applications done before winter break, you’re almost there!

First things first… now is a good time to check in with your teachers, your school-based counselor, and any other recommenders to make sure they have what they need to get their letters in on time with a minimum of stress (for them!).

Now for today’s topic: those pesky “Member Questions.”

What’s a Member Question, you might ask?

If you’re using the Common App application platform to apply to college, you’ll see that there is a set of universal questions and a universal essay that you complete in the tab called “Common App.” But then there are also separate forms (“supplements”) to fill out for individual colleges. That’s where the colleges get to include questions and essays that are specific to them, above and beyond what’s in the Common App tab.

Not all colleges use these supplements — some colleges use just the Common App part of the application and call it a day. Those are less work for you.

But if any of your colleges do include supplements, their college-specific questions are called “Member Questions.”

(Why are they called “Member Questions”? Because the colleges are “members” of the Common App consortium of participating schools, and so the Common App labels those school-specific questions with reference to the colleges’ membership in the consortium. In the Common App universe, a college = a member. A bit insider-ish, it’s true.)

You’ll find a wide range of Member Questions depending on the kinds of colleges on your list. Some of those Member Questions look simple and straightforward but actually have longer-term consequences for you.

For example, a college supplement might ask you what your “preferred start term” is, and give you the options of “Fall” or “Spring” in the drop-down menu.

You might think, “That’s great, I have total flexibility. Woohoo!”

Well, maybe yes… and maybe no.

Some colleges do give you total flexibility with respect to start term and so you can think about which one makes most sense for you. Typically, though, you have to look up that information on the college’s website to confirm that you truly have both options as an incoming freshman.

Other colleges might list more than one start term in the drop-down menu, but in reality only the Fall term is an option for you if you are an incoming freshman; the other terms might be options only for transfer students, and that is often not spelled out in the question or in the drop-down. Another variation (there are several) might make Spring term available on a space available basis only, again without a heads-up.

Often you’ll have to root around on the college’s website to find out those details. But Inline is here to simplify things for you and give you the most important information right above each question.

Another example of a tricky member question is when a college asks you about your intended major. Sometimes the choice you select in the drop-down menu is binding, and sometimes it isn’t, but you wouldn’t always know that just from the question or the drop-down options. Inline decodes the question and the answer choices for you so that you don’t lock yourself into a particular academic path unintentionally.

The lesson here is that even simple-looking questions in your college application can actually be a bit tricky, and the trickiness doesn’t always jump out at you. If you treat it as a simple question, you might have hurt your odds of admission, or limited your future options, without even realizing it. Inline alerts you to those tricky bits in the Member Questions so that you don’t unintentionally fly through them without understanding the nuances.

Inline is full of tips and tricks to help you ace the Common App questions, the Member Questions, and much more.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

the word.