Demystifying the Common Application: A Step-by-Step Guide

Demystifying the Common Application

Step 1: Setting up Your Account

Before you even begin to fill out the Common Application, you’ll need to set up your account. This is a relatively straightforward process, but it’s worth doing carefully to avoid any unnecessary problems down the line.

Remember when one of my students had a hiccup with their email address, and it took weeks to resolve? You don’t want that! So, ensure your contact information is accurate, and choose a password you’ll remember.

Step 2: Choosing Your Colleges

Deciding where to apply can feel like a Herculean task. You might feel like you’re standing at the foot of a mountain, but trust me, with a bit of strategic thinking, you can conquer it!

First, take a deep breath and remember that the key is balance. Consider a blend of reach, match, and safety schools. I once had a student who only applied to Ivy League schools, and when he didn’t get in, he was left scrambling to find alternatives. Conversely, another student only applied to safety schools and wondered if she could have aimed higher.

Reach schools are those where your academic credentials fall below the school’s range for the average freshman. They’re long-shots, but they should still be schools you’d love to attend.

Match schools are those where your academic credentials fall well within (or even exceed) the school’s range for the average freshman. You’re not guaranteed admission, but you’re in the running.

Safety schools are those where your academic credentials exceed the school’s range for the average freshman. You can consider these ‘back-up’ schools, although they should still be places you’d be happy to attend.

Step 3: Completing the Common Application

Now, the meat of the matter – the application itself. It’s a lot to take in, but remember, it’s just a form. One question at a time!

Personal Information

This section is fairly straightforward. It contains your basic information, such as your name, birthdate, and address.


Here, you’ll list your high school(s) and any colleges you may have attended. If you’ve switched schools during high school, don’t worry – it’s more common than you might think.


In this section, you’ll enter your standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT. It’s worth noting that more and more schools are becoming test-optional or test-blind, meaning they don’t require or consider test scores in their admissions decisions.


This is the section where you’ll list any extracurricular activities you’ve participated in. Remember, quality is more important than quantity. It’s better to have a few activities that you’re deeply involved in rather than a long list of activities that you’ve only dabbled in.


Finally, we come to the essay section. This is your chance to show admissions officers who you are beyond your grades and test scores. It can feel daunting, but remember, everyone has a story to tell. I once worked with a student who wrote about her love of baking, and how it taught her about patience and the value of hard work. It was a simple topic, but her passion shone through, and she was accepted to her top-choice school.

Step 4: Submitting Your Application

Congratulations! You’ve filled out the Common Application. This is a big step, and you should be proud of yourself. Before you submit, though, make sure to review everything carefully. A small typo might not end the world, but it’s still worth avoiding if you can.

Once you’ve reviewed everything, it’s time to submit. You’ve climbed the mountain, and now you’re at the top. Take a moment to appreciate the view. And remember, no matter what happens next, you’ve taken a big step toward your future, and that’s something to be proud of.

Remember, the Common Application is just a tool to help you apply to college. It doesn’t define you, and it’s not the only factor in the admissions process. But with careful preparation, you can make it work for you. Best of luck!

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