Common App

How to use the Common Application App for Admission

Shagun Gupta

The common app is an undergraduate college admissions application that students use to apply to colleges. It is a universal website that most American Universities use to receive applications. Even though the Common App is a form that students fill, it is more than that. Each section of the common app is extremely important and must be taken very seriously and must be completed with the utmost sincerity. Every section is essential to the story you want to say, and what you care about. Admissions officers really care about what you fill on this form, and how much thought you have put into it. Therefore, if you hope to get into a good university, you must pay attention to the common app.

What are the different types of application systems that Colleges use?

  • The Common Application
  • The Coalition Application
  • The University of California Application
  • Apply Texas
  • School-specific applications (e.g., MIT)

These applications are very different from the common app in terms of the structure. Some universities like the MIT and Georgetown have custom applications.

The Common App is more widely used, which is why we will be discussing this in detail.

Sections of the Common App 

  • Profile
  • Family
  • Education
  • Testing
  • Activities
  • Writing
  • Other


The Common Application profile example

This section includes – 

  • Personal Information
  • Address
  • Contact details
  • Demographics
  • Geography
  • Language
  • Citizenship
  • Common App fee waiver

This section of the common app is about you. This is the first section that the admissions officers see, and this provides context for the rest of your application. They are trying to understand who you are and where you come from. They are going to use this information and take into account every piece of your application. For example, as mentioned in a blog before, most applications are read according to your region. Therefore, your application is going to be compared to all applications from your school or your neighbourhood. Information from this section will create a backdrop for how the rest of your application will be read.

Note – This is the section where you can be more strategic. In the languages section, you don’t have to be fluent in a language to put it down. If you have travelled to Spain and learned basic Spanish, this would be the right place to mention it. They want you to be diverse and explore different cultures. Although, you can mention languages that you have basic knowledge in, be honest and don’t stretch the truth. Admissions officers can see through lies very quickly, and once they catch you, there is no going back.


Common Application Family section example

This section includes – Household, Parent 1, Parent 2, Siblings.

This section of the Common App wants to know about your family background. Why you are the way you are, and what shaped you. 

What will they ask about your parents?

Marital Status, Their profession, Their educational background and Employment Status.

So, why are they asking about this? It is because admissions officers want context. They want to understand who you are, how you grew up, and your family is a large part of that. All the information in the family section is very valued, because the admissions officers want to understand why the rest of your application is the way it is.


Common Application Education section example


What does this section include?

  • Current or most recent secondary school
  • Other Secondary Schools, Colleges and universities
  • Grades
  • Current or most recent courses
  • Honors
  • Community-based organizations 
  • Plans.

This section informs the admissions officers where you stand academically and whether you have taken college courses or advanced placements, which show how adept you are in those subjects.

If you have transferred or switched schools, be very concise and clear about why you took this step.

How can you use this section to your advantage?

  • Take Advanced courses like AP Calculus, AP Biology, etc.
  • Balance out a weak transcript. For example, if you got poor grades in a particular semester, take summer classes to compensate for the poor grades.
  • Demonstrate intellectual curiosity. For example, if you are good at Math, take a college-level course in Calculus or a higher level of this course.

What do they want to know from the Grades section and why?

  • Graduating class size
  • Class rank reporting
  • Cumulative GPA
  • GPA scale
  • GPA weighting

They want to understand the context of where you are coming from, they don’t want to know information that can hurt your application, but they just want to understand you.

Future plans

  • It would be best if you never put “undecided”.
  • The admissions officers want to know how unique your choice is, which plays a crucial role in deciding whether they want you or not.
  • Make sure your plans support your “application persona”.
  • Your career interest should match your intended or potential major.
  • Your degree and career interests should match.


The common application testing section

What is in this section?

  • Tests Taken: self – report scores or future test dates like the ACT, SAT/SAT Subject, AP, IB, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.
  • SAT/ACT: number of scores you wish to report, highest score, date taken, future test dates.
  • SAT Subject Tests: number of scores you wish to report, date taken/planned, subjects, scores.
  • Senior Secondary Leaving Exams.

Test Reporting – Sending in Your Scores

  • Self – report: You must self report your test scores, and it is crucial, to be honest.
  • Submit: You also have to submit your score through the College Board or ACT website.
  • You will have to order a score report for each school on your list.
  • The default setting is to send in all of your scores, so make sure to change the setting for score choice.

Pay attention to the following points :

  • Requirements: Does the college require standardized tests? If so, which ones?
  • Optional: If you have taken tests beyond what is required and want to submit those scores, will the college consider them when evaluating your application?
  • Score Choice: If you have taken a particular standardized test more than once, do you have to report all these scores, or you can choose which ones to report?
  • Superscore: If you have taken a particular test more than once, can they take the best sub-scores among those scores and combine them into a single best score? (This tends to increase your score)

Some schools that require ALL scores are – Stanford, Yale, Cornell, UC System, Rice, Georgetown, Tufts, Pomona College, etc.

Some schools that use Score Choice are – Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Duke, MIT, etc.

Penn, Dartmouth and UChicago allow Score Choice but encourage students to submit ALL scores.


What is in this section?

  • Activity Type.
  • Position/leadership description + name of organization.
  • Activity description.
  • Participation grade levels : 9, 10, 11, 12.
  • Time of participation: all year, summer, school break, etc.
  • Hours spent per week.
  • Weeks spent per year.
  • Intent to continue in college : yes, no.

Admissions officers want to know what you are interested in besides Academics. They want to understand if you are a leader or a follower.

Goals for the Activities List

  • Leadership
  • Tangible Achievements
  • Sustained Involvement
  • Support your application persona
  • Clear and organized formatting


What does a successful Activities list look line in Common Application App


Writing Section of the common Application

What is in this section?

  • Personal Essay
  • Disciplinary information : disciplinary violation at any educational institution, misdemeanour, felony
  • Additional information

Personal Statement is the main part of the entire application. The personal essay is 650 words, which is little over a page. So, you have just more than a page to introduce yourself, impress the admissions office, and tie your application together – all while demonstrating exceptional writing skills. 

What you need to accomplish :

  • Show who you are
  • Show what makes you unique
  • Show your personality
  • Show how the pieces of your application fit together
  • SHOW don’t TELL.

We discuss more about this in HOW TO WRITE A GOOD PERSONAL STATEMENT.

In conclusion, your Common App shows the college admissions officer who you are and why you are the way you are. The personal essay is the most important part of the application, since it ties all the information together.



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