The Common Part of the Common App
Updated: Mar 22
This is essentially an introduction to using the Common App. I didn’t see many of these while I was applying for college, and it would have definitely helped. The Common App is an undergraduate college admissions application that can be used to apply to hundreds of colleges. It cuts the time you would be using to apply to these schools individually in half and allows you to apply to more schools than you would have normally.
You can begin on your own, but you may need assistance from a parent or guardian along the way. I know I did.
The first section you’ll fill out is your profile. The questions are very straightforward and are about your identity on paper. You’ll fill out questions pertaining to your name and date of birth, your language(s), your address, and citizenship. There is one thing in this section I would like to highlight: The Common App Fee Waiver. Many schools have a fee ranging from $40 - $90. If this seems daunting, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. Alternatively, there are several schools that charge no application fee for the Common App! I have pasted a link that has all of reasons a student would be eligible. If any of these things apply to your circumstance, don’t hesitate to apply to the fee waiver. Learn more about the fee waiver HERE.
The next section will be about your family. You will have to enter your parents marital status, their contact information, and if they went to college. If you have little information on your parent, you can check the “limited information” box. Depending on how well you know your parent, you may need to ask them a few questions. For example, what year they graduated from college. You will also have to put in information about your siblings if applicable.
The third section is about your education and will need a good amount of time allotted to complete. You will need to have your transcript handy. Your school, your grades, and your future plans will all be requested within this section. There will be a tab labeled “Colleges & Universities.” This tab only matters if you have completed college courses while still in high school. If you have not completed college courses, don’t worry about it.
The next section is testing, and this is where things get a little tricky. You have the option of self-reporting your test scores to send to colleges. It's very common for schools to check these self-reported scores. If you report inaccurate scores, this could have a big impact on your college admissions outcome. If you are hesitant on reporting scores you are not satisfied with, be assured that you can select which colleges you send your scores to later. One score might be great for one school you are applying to, but not so good for the other. If you’re unsure about sending your scores to colleges, fill out this section and make the decision later.
Here’s my favorite section: activities. I’m going to be writing a more detailed blog post on how to successfully fill out this section later, but here’s the summary for now. You get ten slots for activities. They should be put in order of importance to you and the amount of time you put into each activity. You don’t have to fill out all ten, either. If you have five really solid activities and the rest are just filler, don’t bother with the filler. Your five are enough. Don’t put activities that you did purely for college admissions, either. You may think that Model UN looks really good, and it does when you really care about it. But if you just did it to get into Princeton (I see you Never Have I Ever fans) then the admissions officers will see right through you. It's important to think about how you might answer if an admissions officer asks you why you did and activity, what did you learn from it, or why you liked it. If you can't answer those three questions, then the activity was likely just for college applications.
The second to last section is your Common App essay. Ideally, you’ve been working on this the summer before college application season. You will have seven prompts to choose from, and your essay must be between 250-650 words. A word of advice: instead of writing an essay specifically for a prompt, write an essay that you want the admissions officers to read. When you’re done, select the prompt that applies the best to your essay. It frees you from the binds of the prompt you choose and allows you to write the essay you want to. That’s what I did, and I had a lot easier of a time writing my essay.
Courses & Grades
The final section will be your courses and grades. You’re going to need to pull out your transcript again. You will be prompted to put in every class you’ve taken your whole high school career. Its tedious work, but honestly satisfying. You get to see all of your hard work accumulated on paper. It looks really cool on the final application, too.
I hope this helped with your college application journey. There are no stupid questions! Just because everyone does this, doesn’t mean it’s not confusing. You don’t have to do it all on your own. Virtual College Counselors is here to help!
Spread your paper wings,
C.I.A. (Creative Intern Assistant)
NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Class of 2025