The Common App


Madeleine Fischer, Staff Writer

Seniors, it’s time.

That’s right, it’s already October, which means it’s time to begin (assuming you haven’t already) everyone’s least favorite task: college applications. If you’ve already taken the initiative to begin them, that’s wonderful, and I advise that you keep up the good work and strive to meet your deadlines. If you have yet to begin your applications (or have no idea where to start), fear not. You still have plenty of time to begin working and create a fantastic application.

For those who may be unaware, the Common App is an online application which a majority of private institutions (NOT UCs or CSUs) accept. If you are looking to apply to schools besides the UCs and CSUs, you will need to fill out this application (or a similar one, such as the Coalition Application), in order to apply.

As with any major task, it is best to break down the work into smaller steps, which will make the task of completing your applications much more manageable.

  1. Create your Common App account:

While it might seem a tad mundane, taking the first step of creating your Common App account is still progress.

  1. Filling out your basic information:

This portion of the application can be found under the tab “Common App.” Thankfully, the general section of the Common App is broken down into 7 sections, 5 of which can be filled out with a fair degree of ease. This is one of the more time-consuming portions of the application, simply due to how much information goes into it. Of course, these sections do not have to be filled out all at once, and you have the ability to go back and edit them at any time. By completing what you can before beginning your individual school supplements, you will likely have a better idea of what information you would like to include in your writing supplements.

  1. Selecting your colleges:

Within the Common App, there is a section entitled “College Search.” Within this section, you will be able to search for and add colleges to your application. This portion is fairly self-explanatory: simply search the name of the school, check the box on the left next to your desired school, and click “add.”

  1. Filling in basic information for each college:

Once you have added your chosen schools, their individual supplements will be visible under the tab titled “My Colleges.” It is important to complete the basic, school-specific information for each college; some writing supplements (Step 6) have major/interest-specific prompts, which will not become available to answer unless you have already completed that information.

  1. School-specific writing supplements:

Assuming you have completed Step 5, the easiest way to complete the writing supplements would be to first gather your prompts in a separate Google or Word document. From there, you will have more freedom to brainstorm and revise each response, both of which are crucial to the writing process.

  1. Personal statement:

The personal statement, whose prompts can be viewed under the “Common App” tab, is one of the hardest pieces of writing on the application. Capped at 650 words, there are eight prompts to choose from. This piece gives you the freedom to share your story or talk about something impactful in your life; this will, of course, differ for everyone. As with the other supplements, you should spend time brainstorming and exploring different topics, and revising your piece until you feel it is the best it can be.

  1. Letters of Recommendation:

The majority of schools require at least one letter of recommendation, preferably from a teacher in one of your core classes (science, English, math, history), as well as one from your counselor. If you hope to have a glowing letter that reflects your incredible temperament and personality, it would be best to begin approaching your teachers now and requesting that they write one for you. When approaching a teacher, you should include a brief resumé describing your school performance and extracurricular activities. In order to give them access to your application, simply locate the tab “My Colleges” and under each school, open the window titled “Recommenders and FERPA.” From there, you will be prompted to submit the names and email addresses of your teacher(s), counselor, and potentially an additional optional letter from a coach or other mentor who knows you well.


If this article has caused you a significant degree of stress, you have permission to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. While getting started now is ideal, the majority of schools subscribed to the Common App have their deadlines (not including early decision, early action, or artistic portfolios) in January. Of course, this does not mean that you should disregard this article until winter break, but it does mean that you still have over two months to complete and finalize your application before submission.


To my fellow seniors, good luck.