College Corner: How to Use the Common App


Jacob Grindstaff, Opinion Editor

As Nov. 1 deadlines rapidly approach, students all over the country work on their college applications in an attempt to make the best possible impression on college admissions officers.For some, simply navigating college application websites, such as the The Common Application, can be a huge headache. Last year alone, one million students applied to college through the Common App. The Common App serves to facilitate the college application process by offering a single platform where students can apply to more than 800 colleges located in 20 countries, mainly based in the United States. Although a clear-cut way to use the Common App does not exist, you can use these six steps to learn how to use the website.

1. Create Your Account 

This may come across as a no-brainer, but the first step to applying through the Common App involves creating your account as a first-year student. At this point, you do not need to provide much information, besides some basic details such as your name, birthday, home address, phone number and email address.

2. Add Schools to Your List

After successfully creating your Common App account, you can now add the schools you plan on applying to. Common App allows you to do so by using the “College Search” tab, where you can browse different colleges and add them to your “My Colleges List.” While looking for schools, you can filter your search by name, state, location, distance from home and application deadlines. Meanwhile, the “My Colleges List” serves as an user-friendly page that outlines and organizes the schools you plan on applying to, as well as the requirements for applications for each individual school. 

3. Look into the Requirements for the Schools You’re Applying To

As mentioned before, each individual school has different requirements. On the dashboard of your Common App, at the top right hand corner, lies an “Application Requirements” button. A requirement grid that updates each application cycle appears on the screen to help you keep up with everything each school requires: test scores, application fees, recommendations, etc. Additionally, this requirement grid helps prospective applicants remain on track by showing all of the application deadlines: Early Decision I and II, Early Action and Regular Decision. 

4. Gather Your General Application Information

After you have looked into the schools you plan on applying to and noted their requirements, now comes the time to look at the “General Application” section of the Common App. Though every school has varying requirements as mentioned beforehand, every school on your Common App receives the information you fill out in the “General Application” section. In this section, you have to provide information regarding the following: your high school courses, grades, activities and test scores (and their dates), as well as information about your parents/guardians. It may feel quite overwhelming to remember and provide so much information. As a result, Common App recommends gathering this information before you start filling it out to facilitate a smooth application process. However, you still might need the help of your parents/guardians or your counselor, so do not be afraid to ask!

5. Start the Application

Once you have completed the general application section of the Common App, the process of beginning your applications to individual schools can feel very stressful and nerve-wracking. However, you have prepared yourself, by just creating your account to researching the schools that interest you. The most important tip to take into account at this point involves being yourself on the application; express yourself through authentic essays and do not attempt to fabricate anything that you did not actually do. Additionally, certain schools may have optional writing supplements and although it may seem time-consuming and tempting to not do them, these optional submissions and writing supplements can help you better showcase yourself to any colleges that appeal to you.

6. Finish Your Application

Congratulations! You did it. You applied to college. Now you wait, how long you end up waiting  depends on when a school releases their admissions decisions. However, the school year does not end here, so make sure to keep your grades up and hope for the best. You got this!