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How To Fill Out the Common App – The Complete 2024 Guide

Applying to college can be scary and stressful. Need some help navigating the application process? We have the ultimate guide for filling out the Common App and making your admissions experience easy!

Camryn Gruner

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female college students holding a laptop filling out the common app

Applying to college can be scary and stressful. Need some help navigating the application process? We have the ultimate guide for filling out the Common App and making your admissions experience easy!

In this post:

What Is The Common App?

The Common App makes applying to college a million times easier. Instead of sending in application after application, the Common App allows you to keep all of your information in one place.

This one application is accepted by schools all over the country, and some out of the country, making the college admissions process much simpler. Plus, the Common App is a free platform, making your process easy and inexpensive.

It was designed to ensure students can easily access everything they need on one platform that organizes everything for them.

General Requirements

Requirements can vary from school to school, however, there are some pretty standard requirements that the Common App takes care of for you. They include:

A Copy of Your High School Transcript

When applying for college, you need to provide a copy of your high school transcript. Schools want to see what your high school grades currently are, and what they were in the past, to determine the type of student you are.

They also like to see what courses you’ve taken to prepare yourself for college. Getting a copy of your transcript is necessary, but easy.

Lists of Your in-School and Out of School Activities and Responsibilities

Including your activities and responsibilities gives colleges a great opportunity to explore more about you and your personality.

They can see who you are as a person, inside and outside of the classroom. Not to mention, schools like to see that you’re involved in clubs, a job, and your community.

Include any and all of the extracurriculars you partake in, and you will stand out to any school.

Test Scores of Entrance Exams and Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are a big component to include in your Common App. Although not all colleges want to see your scores, it’s still a great idea to include scores from your SATs, ACTs, AP exams, and any other standardized tests you might have taken.

You can look at your school’s requirements more in-depth on their pages on the Common App.

Parent/Legal Guardian Information

According to the Common App website, they ask for this information for demographic purposes. On the Common App, they will ask about your parents’ or legal guardians’ occupations, employment, and education history.

This information is entered as a way for them to further understand your family’s background.

Related: Test Optional Colleges-Colleges NOT Requiring SAT in 2024-2025

Letters of Recommendation

black and silver fountain pen

Common App allows you to add letters of recommendation from counselors, teachers, coaches, or employers. Letters of recommendation are an opportunity for colleges to see the kind of positive effects you’ve had on others in your community.

Recommenders allow a different perspective of who you are to shine through. It’s easy to talk yourself up, but it’s more impressive to have other people speak fondly of you.

Therefore, pick recommenders you’ve had a close relationship with; the closer the better.

Writing Requirements

Every college has its own set of “get to know you” questions interviewers like you to answer. But the most common writing assignment on the Common App is a personal essay.

There are usually a few prompts to choose from, but they all allow you to showcase yourself to your desired school. Pick the prompt that works best for you, one that allows you to show a side of yourself that people wouldn’t normally see.

Instead of writing about your grades and accomplishments, give yourself a chance to write something personal that will have a long-lasting impression on college admissions.

Over 900 schools accept the Common App, those of which include colleges and universities across all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries.

Popular schools include:

  • Harvard University
  • Marist College
  • New York University (NYU)
  • Princeton University
  • Boston College
  • Columbia University
  • Northeastern University
  • Quinnipiac University
  • Yale University
  • Villanova University

There are so many other well-known, and not so well known, schools that accept the Common App. If you’re interested in looking, you can find more here.

When Is the Common App Due Each Year?

The Common App deadlines differ for each college or university; however, the most common deadlines depend on your admission type. If you prefer to have a head start and do early action, the most common deadline to submit the Common App is November.

If you decide to take a little extra time and do a regular decision application, the deadline is typically in January.

But, you can always choose to be extra prepared and turn your Common App in before these dates!

Related: 20 Places Where You Can Buy Used Textbooks – The Ultimate Guide

Tips on Completing the Common App

  • Start Early

    • When applying to college, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that you have ample time to complete everything. But with the stress of everyday life, it’s easy to fall behind. So instead, start early to ensure you have everything finished on time for your deadlines.
    • Although the Common App makes applying to colleges much easier, it still takes a decent amount of time to complete.
  • Submit the App Before the Deadline

    • Submitting the Common App before the deadline is a good idea for anyone. It’s important to ensure you don’t miss your deadlines, and sometimes, things go wrong. So instead of waiting until the last minute, try to stay on top of your application deadlines.
    • This way, you can ensure you have everything you need at the right time. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to give it a few extra days to fully go through.
  • Save All of Your Login Information

    • During the college application process, you’ll need to have logins for multiple places, and it can get confusing very quickly. Pick a secure place to save all of your usernames and passwords to ensure your information will be saved.
    • This way, you won’t have to worry about losing anything important or having to reset passwords multiple times.
  • Fill Out Everything, Even if It Is Optional

    • The Common App ensures that all of the information you need will get filled out. But it can be beneficial to fill out the optional boxes as well. Sometimes, they allow you to enter information that could make you further stand out to schools.
    • I suggest taking advantage of the opportunity to further sell yourself. Optional doesn’t always mean unnecessary; therefore, take a few extra minutes to fill out all of the boxes on the Common App, even if they’re not mandatory.
  • Subscribe To Your Colleges’ Pages

    • By ensuring you save your desired college pages onto your account, the Common App will help you find everything you need for each school. As we went over, different schools have varying requirements, and it can be difficult to navigate all of them.
    • By saving them to your account, you can ensure that you’re easily keeping track of everything you need.
  • Take Your Time Filling Everything Out

    • To make sure everything is written the way it’s supposed to be, make sure to take your time completing the Common App. Students tend to get caught up in the idea that getting it done faster is better.
    • While it is true you should get it done in a timely manner, getting it done correctly is just as important. It may seem contradictory to some, but having the correct information is much more important than getting it done quickly.

2024-2025 College Application Outlook

Covid definitely held students back in multiple ways. Not only did it make learning more difficult, but it made application processes even longer. Now, after the fact, the application will continue to be just as easy as before.

However, the pandemic has changed some schools’ requirements, taking into consideration the difficult year. That Will Make You Stand Out

This section is important for those who tend to question themselves during the college admissions process. With multiple prompts to choose from and a lack of inspiration, college essays can be extremely difficult for people to write.

Here are some of my best tips to make your Common App essay unique.

  • Think Outside the Box

    • The last thing college admissions want is to read the same essay over and over again, just with different wording.  Although it’s hard to get the ball rolling, you will have nothing to worry about once you pick a prompt that speaks to you. Make your essay personable, easy to understand, and unique.
    • Think of traits you have, things you’ve done, or things you want to do that make you different from the rest.
  • Sometimes Simplicity Is Better

    • Simplicity can be better in the sense that you don’t want to pack too many details into one essay. Pick one important moment in your life and describe why it was important.
    • Did it change your outlook on life? Did it make you a better person? All of these things are what colleges want to know, but only the most important details.
    • Don’t waste time thinking about everything that happened in that moment. Pick the most compelling parts that will get your point across quickly and effectively.
  • Showcase Your Style and Tone

    • Another way to ensure you’re standing out is by showcasing your writing style and tone. By establishing your own unique writing style, schools will get a better understanding of the type of person you are. Believe it or not, people can tell a lot about you from the way you write. Establish what you want that to be and run with it.
    • Whether you write properly or with a great sense of humor, colleges want to see parts of your personality that they can’t see on the rest of the Common App.
  • Remember, There Are no Rules

    • A lot of times, people struggle to write their college essays because they are so focused on the proper way to write. Well, the great thing about the college essay is that you don’t need to worry about being proper.
    • Yes, you should still follow standard grammar, punctuation, etc. But have a little fun with it! There’s nothing wrong with being a little creative when it comes to your college essay.
    • In fact, colleges like to see that you are taking the time to showcase yourself honestly, authentically, and in a creative manner.
  • Write Multiple Drafts

    • Just like there are multiple sides to every story, there should be multiple drafts for every essay.
    • It’s easy to get stuck in one thought process, but that doesn’t always make for very productive writing. Instead, push yourself to write multiple drafts of the same story. This will help you find your perfect version of the story you want to tell.
  • Lastly, Proofread

    • This seems like a pretty standard rule, but you’d be surprised how many people skip over it. Before turning in your essay, proofread it for any grammatical or spelling errors.
    • It is a very easy thing to do that could end up saving you embarrassment. Nobody wants to read an essay with a lot of errors in it, especially college admissions who are looking for prospective students.
    • Set yourself up for success by taking the time to reread your essay. It will give you a chance to see what it sounds like to other people, and it will ensure you won’t get overlooked by colleges for silly, avoidable mistakes.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into the Common App. But it is broken down into simplified sections for you to ensure ease.

I hope this guide was helpful in easing any concerns you had about filling out the Common App. Thanks for reading!

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