Top Tips for the Common Application

Helpful start to finish tips on the Common Application.

Helpful start to finish tips on the Common Application.


Seniors, get started with these start to finish tips for the Common Application! On August 1, the Common Application went live. Now is the time to start filling out your application. The Common App is by far the most popular way to apply to college. This application is accepted by nearly 900 colleges and universities across the U.S. and overseas.

Staying organized is the key to conquering the Common Application. Students need to stay on top of the application process – and they can with these tips for the Common Application from the seasoned advisors at International College Counselors. As always, if you have questions about your application, contact us!

  1. Create a Common App account. Make sure to write down your login information so you don’t forget it. You will need to use an email address to create your account. Register with an email that you check on a regular basis, so you do not miss anything as colleges will also use that email to contact you.
  2. Keep an eye on your inbox. Colleges will maintain contact through email, sending reminders, important details, and instructions for your application. After you submit your application, be sure to set up your “applicant portal” for each school, where you can track your application and check to make sure it is complete. This is often where your decision is posted, as well, so be sure to keep track of your login information.
  3. Download the Common Application App. As we mentioned previously, the key to success with the Common App is staying organized. To stay on top of your application from wherever you are, download the Common Application mobile app on your phone or tablet.
  4. Keep track of your progress. On the Common App’s Dashboard, students can keep track of their progress for each school. When you have completed and submitted all the college’s requirements, you will see a green checkmark and the word “Complete” next to the college.
  5. Use a calendar. Whether on your phone, computer, or an old-fashioned wall or desk calendar, it is imperative that you keep track of dates and deadlines. Keep your calendar in a location that is easily accessible for you, where you won’t miss it. Alternatively, if using a digital calendar, make sure to set up reminders and alerts to be sure everything is accounted for.
  6. Keep electronic or hardcopy records. Start a folder – either on your computer or a physical folder – for each school you are applying to. Keep copies of application materials, correspondences, and login information all in one place. Then, whenever you send or receive an email to or from a school or interviewer, add it to the corresponding folder. Take screenshots of completed applications and confirmations when you receive them. One of our students used a screenshot to prove his application was not late…and it worked!
  7. Review your essays with a fine-tooth comb. Most schools require students to submit the main Common App essay, also known as the Personal Statement. For this essay, students must choose one of seven essay prompts, which can be found here. In addition, many schools either require or give students the option to write supplemental essays to accompany their applications. We strongly recommend that students write all supplemental essays, even if the college says they are not required. In other words, optional essays are not really optional, and not putting forth the effort to write the additional essay sends the wrong message to schools about your work ethic and interest level. If you need help with any college writing, the essays, or the supplements, even if you’re not a client of International College Counselors, we offer individualized essay help through our sister company, Edit the Work.
  8. Go over your application carefully. Take your time filling out your applications. Minor errors and silly mistakes are distracting for application readers and will not reflect the student and applicant you really are. To ensure each section is completed accurately, you can preview each part of the Common App, section-by-section by clicking on the “Preview” button on the page you are working on. When your ENTIRE Common App is complete, the last step is to click “Review and Submit.” Here you will have the option to print a PDF of the application. We highly recommend not skipping this step, as many students do, to ensure everything looks the way you want it to before you submit.
  9. Give yourself time. Whatever you do, do not plan to complete the application in one night or even one weekend. To do so would be nearly impossible without making many errors, not to mention it would be completely overwhelming. By starting now, you will give yourself ample time to leave no stone unturned. Make sure to proofread the application multiple times before you press submit and for good measure, have someone else proofread it, as well.
  10. Submit early. Do not submit the Common Application on the day it is due. Technical issues – whether on your personal computer or on the Common App’s part – are common, and admissions officers are not often forgiving.