The Common App

The Common Application is on-line and is accepted by over 500 colleges – both public and private. It enables you to apply to many schools at once – reducing the amount of work tremendously. Additionally, you can track the status of the various pieces of the application.

Many top universities and liberal arts colleges are members, meaning they accept the Common Application. Check the schools on your list to see if they accept it.

On-line tutorials are available to help you create an account and acquaint you with the technical features. When you register, be sure to enter your name as it appears on official documents i.e. no nicknames.

Start with the dashboard

It is useful to have information about your schools and your application status all in one place and the Dashboard section table will do that for you.

My colleges

The My Colleges section has school specific questions and writing supplements. Not all schools will have questions and supplements. Be sure to check each school carefully to ensure you have answered all the supplements. Sometimes the writing supplement will differ within a particular school depending on the major you indicate.

The most common question for the school writing supplement is “Why do you want to apply to College X?” You must research and preferably visit the school. You need to give very specific reasons why you personally are a match for the school and the school is a match of you.

The common application

This section has information that goes to all the schools to which you apply. It has a general profile, family information, education section, testing section.

In the activities section, list your activities in order of importance. I always tell students to convey their accomplishments and initiative. Only mention activities in which you have had meaningful involvement. Colleges do not want to see a laundry list of every endeavor you have tried in high school. Too long a list can distract from your real achievements. However, many students to not realize that many of the ways they spend their free time should be included. For example, taking care of a family member, after school, is an activity that shows impressive dedication and responsibility.

The personal essay is one of the most important elements. It should show colleges who you are and what is important and meaningful to you. You are allowed 250-650 words.

Additional Information

There is also an optional Additional Information area in the Writing Section where you can share relevant information about yourself that is not captured elsewhere.

Use this 250-650 word section strategically. You can give important details about your activities. What did you accomplish as captain of the track team? What is the significance of the club you started? Why is a particular activity important to you? Or, you can provide an explanation when needed such as a dip in grades because of an illness.


Students can register with the Common Application any time to see what will be required. However, in July each year the information is all wiped out and you will need to re-register with the latest iteration when it is released on August 1. It is at this time that rising seniors should sign up and check each school on their application list. Compile an up-to-date spreadsheet for all requirements of each school.

Your strategy and plan can then be put in place.