What Exactly is the Common Application?

The Common Application is a centralized platform utilized by over 900 colleges to collect general information, input supplements & essays, and submit applications. Gone are the days of applying to seven colleges using seven different applications. Gone are the days of filling out each application via pen and paper. The Common Application is tool students can use to streamline their application process, becoming more efficient with their time and energy.

What Exactly is the Common Application? | Image

As we dive into the Common App, let’s explore the seven sections with some tips along the way:

The Seven Section of the Common App

Section 1: Profile

In the Profile section, you will be asked to provide general information about yourself (Name, Address, Contact info, etc.). It is important to use your full name, complete with accurate capitalizations, hyphens, etc. When colleges collect all of your submitted documents (Test Scores, recommendations, etc.) it is imperative that your name be uniform across all items to prevent any mix-ups. There are a number of optional questions within this section (ie. demographics) – while colleges appreciate this information for internal purposes, you do not need to feel obligated to complete these items.

Section 2: Family

As you begin the Family section it may be a good idea to have your parents/guardians nearby. You will need to provide specific information about your household, including information like parent/guardian’s education, graduation date, degrees, marital status, etc. If you are filling this section out without the information on hand, you can always save it and come back when you are ready!

Section 3: Education

Once you reach the Education section it is important to have a copy of your high school transcript and current courses on hand. As you work your way through this section entering in your GPA, grades for each course, and courses you are currently enrolled in, accuracy is of the highest importance. When a college reviews the information you report, they will compare it to your official transcript, submitted by your high school, any discrepancies may raise a red flag. This is a section worth a triple-check! If you have any questions or are unsure as you proceed through the Education section, speak with your school counselor or administrator.

Section 4: Testing

No section on the Common App has been impacted greater by COVID than Testing. With hundreds of colleges moving to a test-optional policy, the need to self-report your standardized testing has significantly changed. The Testing section gives you the option to report your standardized testing (ACT, SAT, and AP scores). This is an excellent time to consult with your school counselor with regard to whether you will submit your scores or not. Also, while you can self-report your test scores through the Common App, the majority of colleges will require you to submit official scores directly from Collegeboard or The ACT.

Section 5: Activities

The Activities section is often the most underutilized section of the Common Application. With the ability to present only TEN activities, using only 150 characters, students often struggle to accurately represent the value of the experience. When describing an activity, be sure to describe your specific experience within the activity, rather than describing the activity. Here is an example:


Volunteer Organization – President

The Volunteer Organization serves the local community by raising money, running food drives, and going to food pantries to serve the food-insecure.


Volunteer Organization – President

Coordinate fundraisers and food drives for community members in need; arrange weekly trips to serve families at a local soup kitchen; Create agendas and lead weekly meetings of 30+ peers

Notice the specific action words used in the GOOD example, describing what the applicant does within the organization. Take advantage of this section, and help the application reader to see who you are within the activity.

Section 6: Essay

In this section, you will input your Common Application Personal Statement (College Essay). Your essay needs to address one of the seven prompts presented by the Common Application. Here are a number of Tips, Dos, and Don’ts to consider when writing your essay.

Section 7: Courses and Grades

This section, similar to section 3: Education, requires the utmost care and accuracy. While not required by all colleges, this section will need to be completed if just one of the schools that you are applying to asks for it. You will need to enter each course and the corresponding grade for your entire high school career, Grades 9-11. It is recommended to have a copy of your most up-to-date transcript on hand when completing this section.

How Do I make the Most of my Common Application?

As you navigate your Common Application, be sure to be honest and accurate. You have already done so much throughout high school to reach this point, take your time and triple-check your application to ensure you have presented the most accurate version of yourself. If you need any assistance with your application, why not contact us today?

All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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