The Ultimate Guide to Completing the Common App for Any College

October 5, 2022
By AdmissionSight
Four students working for the common application in a library.

The Ultimate Guide to Completing the Common App for Any College

Back in the day, students who wanted to send in undergraduate college applications to multiple schools had to fill out each application by hand and send them in by mail. Thanks to computers and the internet, high school students applying to many of the top colleges and universities in the United States don’t have to deal with that task. That is thanks, in large part, to the Common Application.

But what is the Common App, and how can using it impact your experience of applying to your top schools? At AdmissionSight, we work tirelessly with the students who partner with us to guide them through the many ups and downs of the college application experience.

At the same time, students can (and many do) opt to go the journey primarily alone, with some guidance from their parents, peers, and high school counselors; more and more students these days are opting for the specific and hands-on advice that comes with working with an admissions consultant.

The admissions consultants at AdmissionSight use their years of experience and knowledge within the undergrad application ecosystem to help boost our student’s chances of success at even the most competitive and selective institutions.

The tools and strategies we implement and pass on to our students play a significant role in the high level of success our students enjoy. 75.0 percent of the students we work with end up getting into an Ivy League school or a top 10 school that isn’t in the Ivy League.

While tools and strategies for success are a big part of our job, it is not the only part. Another primary responsibility that we take on is to answer any questions that our students have regarding the application process.

Unsurprisingly, many of those questions have to do with the application itself. And for hundreds of thousands of high school (and transfer) students each year, that means filling out the Common Application.

Female student using a laptop for research on how to complete the common app for college

If you are wondering how to complete the common app for college or want to know how many colleges accept such, this article is for you.

What is the Common Application?

Where else could we start on a total breakdown of the Common Application without answering the simple question, “What is the common application?” Simply put, the Common App – commonly called – is an online college application that students can use at hundreds of schools.

All schools that have agreed to use the Common App are willing to accept the same forms, which means that a student only has to complete the main sections of the Common App one time! From there, they can use that part repeatedly and interchangeably at any schools they want to apply to that accept the Common app.

This makes the entire application process much easier for students and allows them to focus more of their time and energy on the school-specific sections of the application process. With that in mind, it is essential to remember that many schools (exceptionally more competitive and prestigious schools) also tend to have supplemental and school-specific sections that students must complete to submit a finished application.

So, essentially, the Common App is a catch-all that allows students to fill out some crucial aspects of their applications once for multiple schools. It cuts back on the time and effort required to complete these tasks.

More than 1,000 schools accept the Common Application, and it is starting to become rarer and rarer for schools not to get it. After all, the ease and simplicity of the process not only helps students but also helps schools by increasing the number of applicants and, therefore, improving the likelihood that the admissions committees at different schools across the country will find students who will be a great fit on their campus.

As hundreds of schools accept the Common App, there are too many to list. However, we have listed some of the colleges that get it. You will see a wide range of schools, from highly selective to less selective, from small private universities to big public schools:

With that basic information out of the way, let’s go a bit deeper about what it’s like to fill out and submit a Common Application of your own.

What information and documents are needed to complete the Common Application?

This is a great place to start for students preparing to fill out their Common Application. The first steps include filling out basic personal information as well as filling out some essential paperwork. To ensure that you are indeed who you say you are, the Common Application will request that you include your Social Security Number, so you’ll want to ensure that your parents have that on hand when you are ready.

Two female students studying in a living room.

On top of that, you will also have to complete information regarding your family’s income, your parent’s employment status, and their highest degree earned. This is most important if you also plan to fill out the FAFSA portion of the Common App.

On top of that, students will also need a copy of their high school transcript. You may need a college transcript instead if you already have college credits. Standardized test scores, such as the ACT or SAT, were necessary in the past, but as you likely know, they are now optional at a large portion of the schools in the United States. Still, if you took the SAT or ACT and want to use your score to improve your chances of getting into your top schools, you’ll also want to include that information.

Create your account

After gathering that basic information, you will be ready to create your Common Application account. Start that process by visiting the Common App website and creating your profile.

The first step is clicking the “Apply Now” button and then getting started on your registration type. You will also have to create a login profile using your e-mail address.

From there, students will be asked to provide basic information, such as their name, address, phone number, birth date, and more. Students should be aware that they need to use their complete and legal representation so that schools can match the application with any supporting documents.

Next, students must set their communication preferences and accept the site’s privacy policy before clicking the “Create Account” button.

Complete the general application

Once you have created your account, you can start working through the general application information. This portion of the application details any school a student applies to.

The basic information included in this portion Is a student’s grades, courses, and the extracurricular activities they participated in during high school. This section also includes standardized test scores if necessary. To make the entire process easier, the general application portion of the Common Application is split up into seven sections, including:

  1. Profile (for the student)
  2. Family
  3. Education
  4. Testing
  5. Activities
  6. Writing
  7. Courses & Grades

Keep an eye on the specific instructions for each section so you do not miss any critical process components.

Complete the essay section

If you have already started preparing to apply to colleges, chances are good that you know just how important the essay section of any college application can be. These personal essays allow admissions officers at various colleges and universities to get valuable insight into who you are as a person on top of as a student. The Common Application contains essay prompts that students are expected to fill out.

Students can choose between several essay prompts, allowing them to select the options they feel they can answer effectively and uniquely. While reviewing the essay prompts, it is advised that students spend some time thinking about each prompt and figuring out which one they connect to most deeply. It is essential that students do not feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the essay section, as this may lead them to write something more generic.

Because these essays haven’t worn a limit of just 650 words, students need to figure out how to communicate their message and answer the questions within the prompt effectively and directly. Prompts change from one year to the next, so while you cannot get a head start on your essay prompt before the Common Application for your application cycle is available, students can easily find prompts from previous years and get an excellent idea of what kind of questions they can expect to be provided on how to complete the common app for college.

Add your schools

Once all the previously mentioned sections are completed, students can add schools to their list. While all schools must receive the general application portion, it is essential to remember that many schools also have requirements specific to their admissions process. By adding schools, students can see what additional material and information they must provide to complete submissions to certain schools.

One important thing to remember is that students are limited to having just 20 schools on their “My Colleges” list. However, students can adjust that list anytime by removing and adding different schools.

Review your school requirements.

When you have your list of schools you intend to apply to, you want to review the requirements that any of these schools may have on top of the general information in your Common Application.

This will include the school’s application deadlines, submission fees, and more. On top of that, this will also be part of the application that will consist of any additional essay or writing prompts that students need to fill out as part of the application.

It is easy to uncover these requirements in the “My Colleges” tab, and students can also explore these requirements when starting an application for a specific school.

When strategizing for success within the common app, can students look at any of your acquisitions from the school they intend to apply to well in advance? This gives students ample time to prepare by starting essay prompts, retrieving necessary documents, and more. This would also be the time to start reaching out to high school teachers or counselors if you intend to apply to any schools that require one or more letters of recommendation.

Students can submit completed documents within their application or invite people to provide copies directly on the website through invitations.

Does the Common Application come with a fee?

This is undoubtedly a thing to keep in mind because the more schools a student applies to, the more expensive The entire process becomes. The school itself dictates the submission fee of a school, and they usually vary between $25 to $100 per school. That said, students can fill out fee waivers that reduce the cost if they are eligible based on their financial needs.

On top of that, some schools do not charge application fees at all, making the entire application process completely free.

How Do You Choose and Approach Recommenders?

How do you go about choosing and approaching recommenders? The first step is identifying individuals who know you well, not just those with impressive titles. These could be teachers, mentors, or supervisors who have seen you in action, who have witnessed your growth, and who can vouch for your potential.

Two students talking in a desk with a laptop.

Once you’ve shortlisted potential recommenders, approach them well in advance. Time is of the essence, and you want to give them ample opportunity to craft a compelling letter.

If you’re wondering how to complete the Common App for college, remember that a strong recommendation letter can tip the scales in your favor.

Importance of selecting the right recommenders

The significance of choosing the right recommenders cannot be overstated. You might be tempted to go for the most renowned teacher in your school or the supervisor with the most impressive credentials, but hold on.

It would be best to ask whether they know you well enough to write a letter beyond generic praise. A compelling recommendation letter delves into specifics—your contributions in class discussions, your leadership in group projects, or your dedication to extracurricular activities.

These nuanced insights can only come from someone closely interacting with you. So, prioritize depth over dazzle. If you’re still puzzled about how to complete the Common App for college, know that the right recommenders can illuminate aspects of you that grades and test scores can’t.

How to formally request a letter of recommendation

Once you’ve identified your ideal recommenders, approaching them officially and respectfully is the next step. This isn’t a casual conversation; it’s a formal request you’re making, and how you make it can set the tone for the recommendation itself.

Schedule a meeting or send a polite email outlining why you think they would be the perfect person to recommend you. Be clear about deadlines and any specific points you want them to cover. Remember to ask if they can write you a “strong” recommendation letter; this gives them an out if they don’t feel they can do justice to your application.

This step is crucial in understanding how to complete the Common App for college, as a well-requested recommendation often results in a well-written one.

Providing your recommenders with the information they need to write a compelling letter

You’ve chosen your recommenders wisely and approached them formally. What next? Equip them with the ammunition they need to write a compelling letter. Provide a resume or a list of accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and relevant projects or coursework.

Let them know if there’s a specific trait or experience you’d like them to highlight. The more context and information you provide, the easier it is for them to write a letter that resonates with admissions officers.

Remember, your recommenders are doing you a favor; make it as easy as possible for them to help you. This is an often overlooked but vital component of understanding how to complete the Common App for college.

Your recommendation letters should be as tailored and specific as the rest of your application, and providing your recommenders with the necessary information ensures that.

What Are the Secrets to a Stellar Common App Essay?

You’re not just scribbling down a few paragraphs but crafting a narrative that encapsulates your essence. So, what’s the secret sauce? Authenticity. Colleges aren’t looking for the next Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling; they’re looking for you. Your unique experiences, aspirations, and perspectives make you a valuable addition to any campus.

Students lounging in the stairs of a building to check out how to complete the common app for college.

The essay is your chance to showcase these qualities. Please don’t shy away from your quirks or idiosyncrasies; embrace them. They make you, well, you. That’s precisely what colleges want to see.

If you’re wondering how to complete the Common App for college, remember that a genuine essay can set you apart from thousands of other applicants.

Understanding the essay prompts

The Common App essay prompts are designed to be broad and open-ended, giving you the freedom to take your piece in various directions. However, this freedom can be both liberating and paralyzing.

You might find yourself drowning in a sea of possibilities. The key is not to let the vastness overwhelm you. Each prompt is an invitation to introspect, to look within, and to unearth the stories and values that define you.

Whether it’s recounting a significant event, describing a person who has influenced you, or discussing a time you challenged a belief, the prompt serves as a lens through which admissions officers see your character.

So, choose a prompt that resonates with you, one that you can use as a vehicle to convey your identity and make a lasting impression.

Strategies for brainstorming and outlining your essay

Before you dive into writing, take a step back. Brainstorming is your friend, your ally in this journey of self-discovery and articulation. Jot down ideas, memories, or experiences that have shaped you.

Let your thoughts flow. Once you’ve got a decent list, start connecting the dots. How do these disparate elements come together to form the mosaic of you? This is where outlining comes in. An outline is not just a skeletal structure; it’s the backbone of your essay.

It helps you organize your thoughts, ensuring your piece has a logical flow and coherent structure. If you’re still puzzled about how to complete the Common App for college, know that a well-thought-out outline can guide you through the labyrinthine process of essay writing.

Tips for writing, revising, and proofreading

Now, the rubber meets the road: writing. Armed with your outline, you’re ready to conquer the blank page. Write with conviction; write like you mean it. Your enthusiasm and passion must seep through the words.

But remember, the first draft is just that—a draft. It’s not set in stone; it’s clay, malleable, and ready for sculpting. This brings us to revising. Revision is not just about fixing typos or grammatical errors; it’s about refining your message, tightening your narrative, and enhancing your voice.

Once you’re satisfied, proofread meticulously. A stray comma or a minor spelling mistake can be distracting. So, be vigilant. To understand how to complete the Common App for college, never underestimate the power of multiple revisions and keen proofreading.

Your essay is not just a submission; it’s a submission of your best self. Make it count.

How do you submit your Common Application?

Once you have all your information prepared and your schools selected, you can submit your applications directly through the Common Application site. Before you do that, however, you are going to want to make sure to review the general portion of the application as well as all of the specific sections required by various schools that you plan on submitting as well. This includes all of your essay supplements. Review everything with a fine-tooth comb to look for paneling errors or other mistakes/areas that could use improvement.

Young woman typing in his laptop while sitting in the sofa.

After that, you can begin submitting by clicking the “Review and Submit” button under the “Application” heading. As long as you have everything in place and no missing sections, you can go to a PDF version of all of your applications to look it over one last time. If you do not spot errors upon this final review, click “Continue.”

From there, you will be routed to the payment page. If there is a fee attached to an application, you will be able to pay it now. You must sign and date it from there and click the “Submit” button.

After that, you will want to submit the supplemental writing samples and other additional information that schools require. You will be able to launch this from the Common App, as well. To make things easy to track, the Common App will then put green check marks next to any schools you have already submitted to, allowing you to go through them one by one efficiently and promptly.

Keep in mind that you will have to go through this process for each school one by one. It can seem like meticulous work, but trust us when we say this is much easier than it used to be!

Need help with the Common App?

At AdmissionSight, we make it our job to help every student we work with get the support they need when they need it. If you’re still wondering how to complete the common app for college, you have come to check out other articles related to the common app! If you want to learn more about the Common App and how to use it to your advantage to get into the schools at the top of your list, contact us at AdmissionSight to schedule a free consultation.

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