common app guidance

How to tackle the Common App

Here's everything you need to know about the Common App for a successful admissions cycle.

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What is the Common App?

The Common Application is an online portal that allows high schoolers to apply to over 700 colleges and universities with one application. Students input information including their demographics, academic history, test scores, extracurricular activities, awards, and personal essays. They also can use the Common App to request letters of recommendation.

In addition to creating a general college application, the Common App allows students to create and manage the supplements that certain colleges, universities, and programs require.

When is the Common App due?

There is not one deadline for the Common App. Application deadlines depend on whether you are applying early decision (usually November 1) or regular decision (usually January 1). Deadlines also vary by school — the Common App website shows students when each school’s application is due. It lists deadlines for early decision rounds and scholarships as well as regular deadlines.

How do admissions officers use the Common App?

The Common App allows admissions officers to take in each student at a glance — it takes about nine minutes to read a Common App submission cover to cover. When admissions officers finish reading a student’s college application, they have a strong sense of how well that student performed in high school, as well as a rough impression of their values and personality. They use this information to make admissions decisions, so it's important that you stand out during each step.

How to write the Common App essays

The Common App is famous for its personal statement, which requires students to paint a compelling picture of who they are in 650 words or fewer. This is an important essay to get write — that’s why we’ve created a free detailed guide with examples to help guide your writing.

Read our Common App Essay Guide >

How should you write your personal statement?

There is no template for an excellent personal statement. However, all successful personal statements respond to these four core questions:

Who am I?

Admissions officers want to get a clear sense of your personality. Using anecdotes and writing in your own voice helps to convey your overall demeanor.

Why am I here?

Your personal background helps admissions officers ground your story in a larger context. Some students focus on their early childhood while others emphasize recent changes in their lives.

What is unique about me?

This is the area where students struggle the most. One of the most important aspects of applying to college is showing the schools what sets you apart. Use your personal statement to highlight a trait, skill, or experience that most students your age do not share with you.

What matters to me?

Somewhere in the personal statement, be sure to include your values. This can be something ambitious, such as ending global poverty. But something sincere, like “creativity matters to me,” is also a great answer. In addition to answering the core four, successful essays highlight the writer’s growth and maturity. You want to show admissions officers that you are capable of learning and changing as you experience new things.

Supplemental essays

Some schools require additional essays, and these have a different focus. “Why School/Major/Program?” essay prompts are a way for you to demonstrate that you have researched that particular college or university. Use these essays to show how you would explore your interests on campus and contribute to the undergraduate community.

Some schools offer additional personal statement prompts like “Describe your ideal vacation”. These essays are evaluated in the same way that the general personal statement is judged. They exist primarily so application readers know which students care about the school’s unique culture, so be sure to take your time on them.

supplemental essays

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