Timing & Preparation: The Common Application

The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple colleges and universities.

by Lee Norwood, Annapolis College Consulting, July 1, 2019

Junior year is in the books. Summer is finally here. You have a moment to exhale……… Done? You had your moment. Now teens and families need to start thinking about other things like your final college list and the applications for numerous schools.

In the old days, applying to 12 colleges meant 12 different college applications; now things are much easier.  The Common Application, which is accepted by more than 800 schools, including some located outside the U.S, is one place where a student can enter their basic demographic information and extracurricular activities that will be able to be sent to multiple schools. You do not have to use the Common App, but it certainly makes life easier.

“The idea behind the Common App is to try and reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college,” says Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of The Common Application.

The Common App may be confusing for some families who are new to the college application process.  So, we decided to answer some of the burning questions of the day.

[Get tips and tactics from college students on how to use the Common App.]

Starting before the Common App opens August 1

By working with us on your resume and personal statement, you are already preparing for the Common Application which opens August 1st.

You want to dig deep, discuss as a family, and include your extracurricular accomplishments on your resume. Gather details and show an impressive story. Perfecting your resume first really helps because it makes the application a bit easier because you will already have strong statements and utilize the specific number of characters in the best possible way.

To stay on track, we love the Common App’s mobile app to stay on top of deadlines, invite recommenders, and set reminders.

Students don’t have to submit their college applications during the summer, but starting the Common Application in August will give them the opportunity to review the specific additional requirements for schools they’re considering, draft supplemental essays and get some of the tedious background information completed before they start their busy senior year.

To start, applicants can go to commonapp.org and click on the “Get Started” button to get details about how to create an account and log in to work on an application through the platform. The official application opens August 1st, so don’t fill in the details in your Common App account yet.


 [Avoid these big college application mistakes.]


Essays are 10-30% of the admissions decision, so take your time and answer with interesting details. The Common App essay prompts for the 2019-2020 school year will be the same as the seven prompts used last year and have a 650-word limit.

Your main personal statement essay really needs to show the admissions department who you are and why you would be an asset to their campus. The prompts are just that, you want to tell an impressive story that compels the reader to want to learn more about you. Differentiate yourself from others. Don’t write the essay that has already been written: sports injury, church mission trip, grandmother being your idol, etc.

Some colleges will ask you to write additional supplemental essays. Each essay should be completely different and focus on different aspects of you while answering the specific question. The essays should be able to tell the reader who you are, what core values are important to you, if you have a unique skill or ability, and that you will bring something of unique worth to their campus.

Not all schools require students to submit an essay and some require additional essays or information. Applicants can see the requirements for all schools on the Common App when they log in to their student accounts or download a PDF from the Common App’s website.

Students can also preview supplemental questions for schools before they start their applications through the platform’s Applicant Solutions Center.

[Learn common reasons why college applications get rejected.]

Is the Common App Mandatory?

No. But it sure makes life easier. Many schools allow students to apply online through their websites. Some states have application systems that students can or must use in order to apply to schools.

Other platforms accepted by some schools include the Coalition Application and the Universal College Application. And while there are some exceptions, many schools that use those platforms also use the Common App.

Do Schools Prefer to Get the Common App?

Colleges that allow students to submit applications through multiple platforms don’t have a preference on which one is used, but high school counselors might. The Common App’s integration with Naviance, a college and career readiness software provider, makes it easy for counselors to submit documentation for colleges, experts say.

 A few colleges require that you do use their specific application, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University in the District of Columbia only accept applications through their school websites. The University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, and University of Washington in Seatlle only accept the Coalition App.

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