How to Use Common Application: Tips and Tricks

Common App is quite popular as it makes it easy to apply to a number of schools without the pain of submitting forms individually.

Since it is a new app on the market, not all schools accept it yet, but still, a large number of them do which is why it may be a good idea to consider using it if you’re applying for admissions.

Here’s how to make use of the app:

1. Join It

Make an account as a junior. You will only be able to apply when admission open, but signing up early would allow you to know what it is all about.

Sign Up as a Parent: The app lets you sign up as a parent to stay informed about what’s happening around you in terms of admissions. The app will not allow you to apply on the behalf of your child, but you’d still be able to know when admissions open and close etc.


2. Collect Family Information First

The app will ask you for a lot of details so make sure to have everything available. You will not only have to feed information about your background but your parents’ as well, including their job titles, nature of work and educational background.

While you have the option to go back and edit mistakes, until you submit the final form, it is still important to be careful to save time.


3. Your Personal Information

You will obviously have to provide your personal information includes names, educational background including names of institutes, awards won etc.


4. Keep a Track on Deadlines

The dashboard allows you to keep an eye on deadlines so you know which school to cater to first. This is important so that you do not miss on anything.

You can use Common App Ontrack, an app specifically designed to keep a track of everything.

Available on both Android and iOS, it can make the job easier if you are only applying to colleges that entertain the Common App. However, if you are applying to colleges that do not accept the app, you should try College Application Wizard, a website with information of over 1500 undergrad schools.

It is a customizable solution that lets you choose schools you wish to apply to and sort them out according to deadlines.


5. Extracurricular Activities

You can add up to 10 extracurricular activities. This might not be enough for some, but that’s all that you get.


Pick your top 10 activities and list them in order of preference, i.e: most important to least important to you.


For each activity, you will have to provide information regarding the organization and your role in it. Other information required includes:

  • How many hours you invested in it
  • Highlight why the said activity is important to you
  • Explain the activity in 150 characters


6. Know What To Put On Your Application

It can be confusing to decide what to put on your application and what to eradicate. Ideally, you should keep everything that has the potential to positively influence the decision.

For example, if you moved abroad for one semester, then make sure to mention it while covering your experience abroad and how you were able to secure the position.

Your application should show who you truly are and why you wish to pursue a degree. Talk about your achievements and passions. Colleges are interested in knowing how committed you are.

For example, if you mention you love pets, talk about things that verify your love for animals. These include working as a volunteer for animal shelter etc.


Essay Writing

This is the most difficult part of applying to college. However, you should not let it intimidate you. The key lies in planning in advance and writing down a rough draft before you actually get down to write a real one on the app.

Essay titles do not change much and can be viewed on the blog around Jan-Feb. This means you will have enough time to prepare for the essay.

Do not procrastinate and start early so that you have time to improve and edit without any added pressure.



  • Do not write the essay on the app. Instead, write it on Google Docs or MS Word. This way you will be able to keep an eye on the word count and spelling mistakes as the app do not offer such features.
  • There is no autosave function on the app. You will lose what you have written if your computer or browser crashes.
  • Take care of the formatting. You can use underlines, italics and bold, but you cannot use foreign or accented characters.
  • You will have to manually add a bullet list and indent. This should be done after you copy paste them on the app.


Recommendation Letters

Many colleges require that you submit a letter of recommendation with your application.

The number of recommendations required a change from college to college. Head to the ‘Recommenders and FERPA’ section to get these details. This section also shows you from whom you can submit a letter of recommendation.

Make sure to let people know you need their recommendation well in advance and secure it before you send them an actual invitation through the app to write you a letter of recommendation.

The good thing is that one person does not have to write several letters as the same letter can be sent to multiple schools. However, if your recommender wishes to customize the letter for a specific school, they should sign up for Snail Mail when they join the Common App to recommend you.

The app allows you to choose from four types of recommenders. These include:

  • Your parents
  • Your guidance counselor
  • Your academic teacher
  • Other

The last section is typically for anyone that is not your academic teacher but has helped you in your education or career. These include your music teachers, employers, mentors etc.


Study the app carefully to know it well, and get in touch with them through social media if you have questions.

Check out our other content