• Laura Rich

Common App Insights


Filling out college applications can be frustrating, to say the least!

On the heels of our announcement that we are now reviewing applications for ALL Common App schools, we thought a few insights into the popular online application would be helpful.

What exactly is the Common App? Keeping track of all the different pieces of a college application can be stressful. That’s why the Common App’s online application gives you the opportunity to fill out ONE general application that can be submitted to more than 800 different colleges and universities! While many schools that subscribe to the Common App have school-specific supplemental requirements, the general part of the application applies to ALL member schools.


What does the Common App look like? The online application is divided into six parts: Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities, and Writing.


Profile: Your profile contains your personal identification information, including address, contact details, demographics, geography, language, citizenship, and fee waiver information.


Family: Here, you will enter details about your parents/guardians, including education and employment information. You will also provide information about your sibling(s), if applicable.


Education: You will list your high school identification information, scholastic profile information (GPA, class rank, etc.), your current-year course schedule, academic honors, and future academic plans.


Testing: Here, you will enter all of your applicable testing information (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP Tests, etc.) REMEMBER, you MUST submit your official score reports from the testing agencies in addition to filling out this section.


Activities You will list your high school identification information, scholastic profile information (GPA, class rank, etc.), your current-year course schedule, academic honors, and future academic plans. ou bring to the table, so it is essential to be mindful when ordering your activities. If you change your mind about the order later, you can use the arrow buttons to reorder your list quickly and easily. **Even if you can submit an optional expanded resume, it is ESSENTIAL that this section is completed thoroughly. An expanded resume will not replace this section in the review process.

  • Activity type: Here, you are given a drop-down menu to select the appropriate activity category. Example categories include: “Academic,” “Athletics: JV/Varsity,” “Athletics: Club,” “Community Service,” “Family Responsibilities,” “Religious,” and more!

  • Position/Leadership description and organization name: You will list the specific name of the activity, in addition to your specific role in the activity. Since you only get 150 characters for this entry, you may use abbreviations when appropriate. For example: "Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, Concertmaster,” “Varsity Lacrosse Captain, MVP, Academic All-American,” and “Atlanta Food Bank, Volunteer, Fundraising Committee.”

  • Participation grade levels: When did you participate in this activity?

  • Timing of participation: Select whether you participate in this activity only during the school year, during school breaks (e.g., summer), or year-round.

  • Hours per week and weeks spent per year: Most school years contain 32-36 weeks. For example, if you were a member of a club that meets for two hours, once a month during the school year, you would select “2 hours per week / 9 weeks per year.”

  • I intend to participate in a similar activity in college. If you plan to participate in similar activities in college, answering “yes” to this question will give the admissions officer an idea of what skills and talents you will bring to their incoming class.

Writing: The personal essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly with an authentic voice. What do you want an admissions officer to know that cannot be discerned on a transcript or a resume? There are seven prompts to choose from, and your essay can be no longer than 650 words.


When selecting which prompt to answer, don’t be intimidated by the broad topics. Recall a specific memory that really stands out to you in your life. This is known as a “slice of life story.” The most common mistake students make with this essay is simply restating their resume. This essay is your opportunity to give the admissions committee new and valuable information that is NOT present in the rest of the application.


Once you have selected your “slice of life story,” write your first paragraph with a vivid description that really captivates the reader from the beginning. Never open your essay with a restatement of the prompt. Instead, bring the reader into the middle of the action. You are telling a story, not writing an academic paper. Be conversational! This essay should sound like a high school student. Throw that thesaurus away! Write what you are passionate about instead of what you think an admissions officer wants to hear.


Outside of the 650-word personal essay, many colleges have additional writing supplements that are required as part of their admissions process. Some colleges choose to include the additional writing with the “Questions” section. However, some schools have a separate writing supplement that is required. **Remember, when you submit your Common App to a specific college that has a writing supplement, the supplement is submitted separately--it is not automatically submitted with your Common App.


That moment you hit submit!

Don't forget to check out our free Resume Builder tool for creating the perfect college application resume. Also, if you are ready for a professional review of any ApplyTexas, UC, Common App, or Coalition Application school, click here to get started.