Tips for Getting Started on the Common Application

Common App website

Check out the Common Application here.

Before 1975, every college had a separate paper application that needed to be individually hand written or typed and sent via snail mail. The Common Application was introduced that year to provide a single application that could be completed once and sent to all schools.

The Common Application has come a long way since then, and now includes nearly 900 college members’ individual questions and supplemental essay requirements. Among the schools newly accepting the Common App this coming year are Auburn University, Clemson University, University of Georgia, and Loyola University Chicago.

Each year the Common Application is slightly updated, and although the 2020-21 Common Application will not “go live” until August 1st, there are several ways juniors can get started over the summer:

  • Create your Common Application account here
  • Start gathering information required for the Profile and Family sections in the Common App tab. These questions can be more time consuming than one might initially assume, as they require collecting information such as parents’ educational and work histories, and preferred contact information. You may input this information into the Common App now, because it will “roll over” into the 2020-21 Common App version. But do not spend time entering any information for specific colleges into the My Colleges tab, as that will completely refresh on August 1st.
  • Draft your activities list and descriptions using the worksheet your consultant provided, and do not enter it into the Common Application until it is finalized later this summer or fall. The Common App interface makes editing and viewing these entries cumbersome, and it’s much easier to see and perfect your entries in the worksheet and then copy them into the Common App. We expect a slight change in the activities section format, with the current “Position, Leadership, Organization Name” 50 character field being broken into two fields: a 50 character “Position and Leadership” field, and a 100 character “Organization Name” field.
  • Request an unofficial copy of your transcript: For some colleges, students should be prepared to enter their high school courses taken, levels, and grades directly into the Common Application. Colleges will still require official transcripts to be sent directly from your high school, but this can give them an earlier and consistent view of your rigor and performance in high school
    Common App Courses and Grades

    The Common Application requests courses and grades information.

    classes. Wait until after August 1st to see which of your colleges may require this information. A few colleges allow you to self-report your grades and only require a transcript if you decide to enroll.
  • Ask your college consultant to demonstrate the College Search feature where you can add colleges to your My Colleges. Your list may not yet be finalized, but it is helpful to become familiar with adding and removing schools in this section. Any college list you create will roll over on August 1st, but only after that date will you be able to see the college specific questions and supplemental essay requirements for each college’s 2020-21 application.
  • Beyond the Profile, Education and Family sections, we do not recommend completing any more of the Common Application until August 1st, when select information entered in this year’s version will “roll over” into the new version. At that point any enhancements and updated college requirements will be in place.

    Summer offers a great opportunity to become acquainted with the Common Application without any pressure or deadlines, and that investment of time will make it easier to use later as students complete their application process.

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