The Common Application

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

Many top universities and liberal arts colleges accept the Common Application. Check the schools on your list to confirm whether they are among them.  

Online tutorials are available to help you create an account and acquaint you with the technical features of the common application. When you register, be sure to enter your name as it appears on official documents (i.e., do not use nicknames).

Start with the dashboard section

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

My Colleges Section

The "My Colleges" section includes any school-specific questions or writing supplements. Not all schools will have questions and supplements. However, be sure to check each school carefully to ensure you have answered all the supplements, as required.  Sometimes a writing supplement varies within a given 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?” To answer this question, you must research extensively, and ideally visit the school. You need to give very specific reasons why you are a match for the school and vice-versa.

The Common Application Section

This section covers information that goes to all the schools to which you apply.  It features a general profile, family information, and sections for education and testing.

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 and dilute your greatest achievements. However, students do not always realize that some of their less-obvious, or non-academic, activities 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 to tell your story. 

The Additional Information Area

An optional "Additional Information" area in the Writing Section lets you 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, as needed, you can provide an explanation, such as a dip in grades because of an illness.


Students can register with the Common Application any time to see what is required to complete their college application process. However, this information is wiped out each July 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.

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