Common App Explained and Time Saving Tips

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The Common App came into existence about 15 years ago; therefore, parents with high school students today probably have had no experience with it.  To add to the confusion, its popularity and technology have further changed how one can aptly utilize the tool. But overall, the Common App is a huge time hack and will streamline the college application process.

Back up…  what is the Common App?

Funnily, students usually think it is an app for their phone.  Kids these days! Actually, the Common App is one college application that over 700 colleges accept.  The student fills it out once and then submits it to each college they are applying to that accepts it, paying each time.  Therefore, it saves a TON of time by allowing the student to enter demographic, high school, and achievement information just once.

Having lived through the 15 years of it and having processed hundreds, I have come up with a few tips to streamline applying to college with the Common App:

TIP #1:  Start early

August 1st is the magical date that the Common App becomes available to submit to colleges; however, students can set up their account ahead of time.  They can fill out all of the tedious demographic information so that come August 1st, they can be ready to submit.


TIP #2: Ask for a copy of your high school transcript and senior year schedule

Before sitting down to complete the Common App, contact your child’s school for a copy of their transcript.  There are questions that can be answered directly from information that is put on the transcript:

  • GPA/Rank
  • The high school’s CEEB code
  • Senior year courses
  • Previous courses completes and grades


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TIP #3: Write down your username and password in your phone notes

Sure, sure… this the EXACTLY the opposite of what we tell people to do.  However in my experience, kids NEVER remember their Common App login because it is so specific (capital letter, lowercase letter, a number and a symbol) and because most of their passwords save to their devices.  Therefore, if the student wants to log into their account from any device other than their own, they cannot get in. I cannot tell you how many times that a student wants my help or wants me to review it and they cannot log in.  

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TIP #4:  Jump right to the essays

See what the essay prompts are so you can start considering what you will write about.  You don’t have to start writing the essay right away (in fact I recommend NOT writing it in Common App but in Word or a Google Doc first) but you can start planning it out.


TIP #5:  Complete the EDUCATION section and sign the FERPA waiver first

Your school may not be able to send your transcripts and letters of recommendation until you do this part.  Therefore, do it early so that there is no hold up with your school submitting their pieces.


TIP #6: Have a college coach or school counselor review it before submitting

There are some questions pertaining to the high school that I see many kids answer incorrectly.  Ask your college coach or counselor to review it and make sure you have your login information with you!

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