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Common App Essay Format

Need to format your Common App essay? Follow our top tips to get this step completed as quickly as possible.

1. Use a word processing tool

Should you type your essay directly into the online common application or should you use a word processing tool? Answering this question is your first step in formatting your essay.

Either option is possible, but at Studential we recommend using the word processing tool as it allows you to easily plan, check and correct your essay while offline.

In any word processing tool, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you will be able to format your essay.

For example headings using bold, UPPERCASE, italics or underline whichever is your preference (ours is Bold).

You will be able to create paragraphs and check not only spellings and grammar, but also word counts. If you’re struggling for a word, most word processing tools provide thesauruses, synonyms etc. These are really useful and can spark ideas.

2. Check your word count

A very important fact is being able to check your word count (remember it is 250 to 650 words for your essay) and continue to recheck and refine it, until it is within this very strict word count.

If you’re asking family and friends to proof read and check your essay before you submit it, you’ll also be able to set ‘track changes’ on the document so you can accept or reject their suggestions.

3. Add your essay

Once you’ve formatted it as you want it, the next stage is to cut and paste your essay into the correct field in the online Common Application.

Italics, bold and underline formatting from your word processing version should still be saved when you cut and paste.

However occasionally when you cut and paste there may be formatting issues after you’ve pasted it. Don’t assume it’s all pasted correctly. Recheck it and reformat where you have to.

For example, has the last line pasted in ok?  Do you have any line breaks or spaces that weren’t meant to be there? Are there capitals or lowercases which are incorrect? Is all the punctuation the same as the original?

The online application essay field will also create block formatting of paragraphs and new paragraphs will not be indented. Instead there will be one line of space between each paragraph. This is normal for all online common applications and cannot be changed.

4. Beware your internet browser

Different browsers e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome may paste slightly differently, so if you struggle first time, try re-loading the online application using a different browser and then cut and paste again.

Alternatively if this still doesn’t work, it’s about trying a different word processing tool.

If you think you’re within the word count but it’s saying you’re not or your paragraphs are formatting incorrectly after you’ve cut and pasted them; the best idea is to cut and paste into Notepad (for windows users) or TextEdit (for Macs).

Then from here cut and paste into the essay text box. This is because Notepad and TextEdit strip out all the formatting and just paste plain text. This may mean you need to create your paragraphs again but all the weird and wonderful formatting issues will most likely disappear.

5. Preview your essay

Once your essay is uploaded you can preview the page, once you’ve saved your changes and pressed continue.

To double check the Common Application across all sections including your essay, you’ll need to fully complete every field and requirement and start the submission process. At this time you’ll have the option to save a pdf version to your computer.

Don’t worry if you suddenly realize you’ve missed something. Since 2015/16 applications, the online system lets you make unlimited edits after you’ve submitted your first application.

Further information

For more tips and advice on putting together your common application for college, please see: