Filling Out The Common Application

Completing the Common Application is a very simple and smooth process.

Below is a guideline for completing the various sections of the online application.

There are also helpful topic hints on the right side of the application screen that you can select to answer questions such as: Can schools see my college list? How do I add a college to the list? What are the writing requirements? etc. 

Initial Log In Page

You will need to fill out the following when you start your Common Application:

  • Log in credentials – choose a user name and a password 
  • Registration information – First name, last name etc. Pay attention to spelling and all details. Your information must be correct from the beginning. Choose a contact number that you can definitely be reached at.
  • First year (Freshman) or transfer student option 
  • Applicant planning to enroll within the next 12 months or not
  • The colleges that I am considering for application may communicate with me by email prior to submission of my application (you can subsequently change your response to this question in your account settings). It's important to pay attention to this, and make sure your information is accurate and clear.

Once general information is submitted a student profile will be created.

Continue section by section to complete your application, and become familiar with the following tabs along the top of the screen:

  • Dashboard - shows the institutions you selected, requirements and where you are in the process.
  • My Colleges – This section has a few unique questions that correspond to the institution (s) you selected.  It also contains record release authorization, academic counselor information, teacher recommendation boxes. Make sure to have the correct spelling of your counselor and teachers.
  • Common App – This will be where the bulk of your information is entered. For more specific information, please see below.
  • College search – Here you can search through each of the participating institutions or search based on your selected criteria. The search results will yield various institutions. It is in this section that you can search for and select up to 20 institutions that you would like to apply to in a few simple steps.

The Common App Sections

Since 2015-16, applicants can preview any part of the Common App screen by screen.

Previously, you would have to complete your entire Common Application and then wait for the submission stage before getting a chance of previewing your whole application.

This makes it an easier process and better for ensuring you have filled out each part correctly.

All of the following sections need to be completed in order to successfully complete your application.

1. Profile 

Already completed with initial log in information. Will also include typical general information of contact information, address, location of birth, date of birth, citizenship etc. 

2. Family 

Questions will range from information regarding parents, their background, your siblings etc. You will also need to put in detailed information such as their names, birthdates etc. 

3. Education

You will need to look up your current high school with the search tool. Other points will be about various school questions*, attendance, honors, university course work (if applicabe). *They will need to know your high school counselor (including your academic advisor’s correct name and contact information). 

4. Testing

This section allows you to forward admission test scores such as SAT/ACT etc to schools directly, but gives you the option to self- report these scores in the meantime. Note: the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam is for non-native English speakers.

Always try to report your highest test scores - the Common App will let you choose which scores to put forward, but remember that each university or college you apply to will have different requirements that you need to meet. Some places will want all scores, some only your best scores, and others will want to see a mixture.

Since you submit your applications one at a time, you should edit the testing page each time so it meets the requirements of the individual college, while at the same time portraying your scores in the best possible light.

5. Activities

Here you can add extracurricular activities to your application such as: arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, other pursuits and more.

You may include a maximum number of 10 items here. This section allows your perspective institutions to understand you outside of your academic environment.

Try to put your most impressive or relevant classes and activities down first, rather than in any other order.

University and college admissions tutors will be looking for committed involvement in these activities, so don't bother putting down small, irrelevant or one-off activities.

Remember that you will also need to send official score reports to the places you are applying to as well.

6. Writing

This is the section where you will include your essay.

It will also show you the institutions that you applied to and if the essay is required or not.  If the essay is not required you are still free to include one in your application if you choose to do so.


Since 2015-16, the Common App no longer requires member institutions to accept a letter of recommendation - this will be up to the individual school. However, it's best to check each college's instructions for sending letters of recommendation, e.g. if they ask for two, make sure you send two. 

When you need to get your recommendations sorted, find out whether your school uses Naviance. If they do, your counselor can give you instructions on how to submit your letters of recommendation to the colleges you are applying to. 

If they don't use Naviance, you can assign recommenders on the Common App, so that they can send their recommendation online. Alternatively, they can print out the forms and submit them via mail. The dashboard will say "submitted" when the recommendation has been sent. 


These will need to be sent separately from your Common Application.

If the places you are applying to request an arts or writing supplement, you'll send this off after you have submitted your application materials. 

Send off your Common Application early

In 2014, the Common App system suffered a glitch that caused it to crash during the busy early application period. Students panicked when they realised they could no longer log in to the website, and some universities had to push back deadlines so candidates could get their application in on time. 

Although those in charge of the Common App have supposedly sorted out these technical problems, it's a good incentive to not leave your application until the last minute. 

When you create your account, there should be an option to subscribe to email alerts so you can be aware of any issues they are having. 

Further information

For more tips and advice on filling out your Common Application, please see: