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How to Submit the Common App 🕵️

10 min readseptember 12, 2021


Step-By-Step Common App Instructions 🕵️

Are you planning to apply to colleges using the Common App? If so, you’re in the right place! The Common App is a simple, efficient way to apply to multiple colleges with one application. Once you know what to expect, the Common App is really a simple process. In this guide, we’ll go through what you need to do to submit your Common App application!
Before you begin, you might want to gather some documents to make the process easier!
Disclaimer: To guide you through every stage of the process, this article contains screenshots of the Common App.

Step 1: Create An Account 🤔

The first step is to create an account. Go to https://www.commonapp.org/ and click on the “Create an Account” button in the top right corner of the screen. You’ll need to fill in your name, email address, a password you create, your birthday, your address, and when you plan to attend college. 
For your email address, consider using a personal email instead of a school email. Most high school emails get deleted once you graduate, so you will not be able to use your high school email to receive information from the Common App after your senior year. You’ll probably still be able to use your former high school email to log in to the Common App, but since that email is likely deleted, it’s safer to use a personal email. Some people create a new, separate email for college/scholarship/job applications, so try it out if that is something you think could help you organize your application process. 
Remember: When creating a Common App account or other scholarship/job applications and essays, you’ll want to use a personal, non-high school email so that you don’t lose any information.
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The final part of creating an account is to decide whether you want to opt-in to messages related to your applications. It’s not a bad idea to opt-in while you’re applying to colleges. However, remember to opt-out of those emails after you’re done applying. If you want to check out how an account works without actually creating an account, you can click the “Parent or Other Adult” button when you create your account, and that will give you a practice account. The practice account looks like a real account, but it will not send your information to colleges. This is helpful if you are not applying to colleges yet, but want to get a head start on the Common App. 

Step 2: Add your Colleges ➕

The next stop on the way to submitting your Common App is the “College Search” tab. Once you create your account (or log into an existing account), you will be on your Dashboard. There will be 5 tabs towards the top of your screen, and one of them is called “College Search.” Click on this tab, then look up and add the colleges you want to apply to your account. To add a college to your account, search the college’s name in the search bar, locate it in the list of colleges that pop up below the search bar, and click the blue and white plus button on the left side of the college’s name. 
Unfortunately, some colleges do not accept the Common App, so you may not find every college you wish to apply to under the search tab.
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Once you have found and added all of the colleges you want to apply to, click on the “My Colleges” tab. Under the “My Colleges” tab are all of the colleges you added on the left side of the screen. If you want to add a college at any point, you can click on the blue “Add a College” button in the bottom right corner of the screen. 
The “My Colleges” tab shows what each college requires for your application. Keep in mind that each college will require different things, which will be discussed more in the next section. Then, invite teachers, coaches, bosses, mentors, other folks to give you a letter of recommendation, and where you will submit your application to each college at the end of the process. For now, we will focus on finding and completing the requirements for each of the colleges you apply to.
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Step 3: Check Requirements and Due Dates ✅

Now that you have an account and have added your college check and see which requirements you need to complete. Some colleges may require you to have letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and additional short answer questions completed, while others may not. It’s a good idea to make a list or a spreadsheet of each college you are applying to, what the due date for your application is, and what requirements you need to complete to apply. Here is a list of deadlines compiled by Fiveable! Keep track of the requirements and deadlines for each application with this checklist template.
If you click on a college on the left-hand side of the screen (where there is a list of the colleges you added) and then click on the “Review and Submit Common App” tab under that college, you will see a list of requirements you have to complete to apply for that college. You can also see the requirements of each college you’re applying to on the “Dashboard” tab. 
You will also be able to see the application deadline for each college by clicking on the college’s name in the “My Colleges” tab. Some colleges have specific application deadlines if you want to be considered for scholarships. It's vital to make sure you know if the colleges you’re applying to have these kinds of deadlines by checking out their website.
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Resources:

Step 4: Complete the Requirements 📋

Once you know which requirements you need to complete for your colleges, you’ll want to make a timeline and plan to help you achieve them. For example, if any of your colleges require letters of recommendation, you should start with those first.

Letters of Recommendation 👨‍🏫👩‍🏫👨🏽‍🏫👩🏽‍🏫

You’ll want letters of recommendation from a teacher, coach, boss, or another adult you know from school or a professional setting for college applications. For a refresher on requesting recommendation letters, click here!
The Common App has a spot for a letter of recommendation from a teacher, an advisor, or “other recommender,” which will have a list of other individuals each specific college accepts letters of recommendation. For college applications, teachers are a great source of letters of recommendation. Most high school teachers have already written letters of recommendation before and will be willing to help you with your college application. You will invite someone to submit a letter of recommendation for you on the Common App website, but remember to ask potential recommenders if they are willing to write you a recommendation letter before inviting them. 
Ask the potential recommender if they can write you a letter either in-person or over email. Many teachers will want you to make a list of everything you’ve done/accomplished in high school so that they can use that to write the recommendation, so you should have a list like that ready. If someone agrees to be your recommender, make sure you thank them! Also, ask them what email address they would like for you to submit to the Common App because you will need that later to invite them to submit their letter. 
Once you know that someone will write you a letter of recommendation, you can click on the recommendations tab under a specific college to invite them to submit the letter through the Common App.
The website will tell you that you need to complete your education information in the “Common App” tab, and you’ll want to click on the link provided and do that. 
Eventually, you will also want to complete all of the information in the “Common App” tab (your profile, family, education, testing, activities, and writing section), but to get the letters of recommendation, you only have to complete the education section. You can complete all of the information sections in the “Common App” tab now, or you can do that at the end (all of the tabs except for the writing are putting in basic information, so it should be the quickest part of your application).
Once the education section of your application is completed, you can go back to the “My Colleges” tab and click on the college(s) that require a letter of recommendation. Then click on the “Recommenders & FERPA” tab that shows up under the college name. You will next be asked to agree to FERPA.
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Resources:

Read through the information that the Common App gives you, but just keep in mind that by completing this step, you agree that your college can confidentially contact your former school. 
Next, you will be asked whether you waive the right to read your letters of recommendation. Some recommenders will require that you do this, so check in with them to see if you need to waive that right.
Otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to waive the right even if they do not require it because you should be getting a letter of recommendation from someone that you trust will write a good recommendation. In addition, some colleges see the fact that you won’t read the letter of recommendation as reassuring. Once you complete the FERPA pop-up, you will be taken to a screen where you can invite recommenders. You will need your recommender’s full name and email address for this step. Make sure you put down the email address that your recommender wants on the Common App. After you’ve submitted your invitations to your recommender’s, you’re done with this step! Congrats! This is one of the two most extended steps on the application, so good job!
This is how your “Recommenders and FERPA” tab will look after you complete the FERPA information and can invite recommenders (there may be different sections for different kinds of recommenders depending on the college):
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Personal Essay ✍️

The other longest step on the application is the essay section. Just like with the letters of recommendation, not all colleges require you to complete the essay section or short answer questions. To see if you need to write the essay section, click on the “Common App” tab and then click on the “Writing” tab on the left-hand side of the screen. This will open the “Personal Essay” section of your application, and there should be a list of the colleges you are applying to and whether or not they require the personal essay. If none of your colleges need the essay, congrats! 😅 You can skip this step and move on. 
However, if at least one of your colleges does require a personal essay, you will want to focus on this step next. For the essay, the Common App has a list of 6 prompts to choose from, and a seventh prompt that lets you write about anything you want. If you have an experience that fits really well with one of the 6 specific prompts, feel free to write about it, but the seventh prompt will most likely be the easiest to complete. It’s a good idea to complete the essay over the summer because you will most likely be very busy during your senior year! Write your essay in another application (like Google Docs or Microsoft Word) and then copy and paste it into the Common App once you are done. Make sure you have a few other people proofread your essay and that it is at least 250 words and at most 650 words (it will not submit if you are not in this word range). Check this out if you need more guidance on writing your college essay!
Personal Essay Prompts
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Resources:

Other Requirements 🏫

You just completed the two longest steps on the Common App! Now you only have two things left to do. 
The first is to complete your information in the “Common App” tab. Once you click on the “Common App” tab, there will be a Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities, Writing, and Courses & Grades tabs on the left-hand side of the screen. If you already completed these when you filled out the Education section earlier, you can skip over this. If you haven’t yet, fill this out now. 
The second step is to complete any additional requirements you need for each college you are applying to. Go to the “My Colleges” tab and click on the college you are applying. Under that college name, different tabs will pop up. Click through each of these tabs and fill out any additional information they ask you for. Some colleges have other short answer questions they want you to answer, so make sure you do not wait to do this step until close to the application’s due date.

Resources:

Step 5: Submit an Application for each College on Your List 🌟

Once you finish all of your requirements, it’s time to submit your application for that college! On the Common App, submit an application to each college you’re applying to individually. The Common App will take the same information and give it to each college, but you need to submit an application individually. To submit your application, go to the “My Colleges” tab and click on the college you want to apply to. Under the college name, tabs will pop up, and one of them is “Review and Submit Common App.” Click on that tab. If there are any requirements you have not completed, they will show up now. Make sure you meet any additional requirements listed.
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Once the requirements are complete, you can click review and submit your application! You can preview your application and then submit it! Make sure you do this with each college. Then you’re done with the Common App! Congrats!
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GIF courtesy of Tenor.com

While college applications are stressful, the Common App is a great way to relieve some of that stress by applying to multiple colleges with the same application. The Common App website is also pretty straightforward to use, and, hopefully, this guide gave you some useful tricks on how to complete your Common App as well! Good luck with your college applications! Now go submit an excellent Common App! 💪
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