Basic Guide to the Common App

Basic Guide to the Common App

First, go to Bookmark this page! You’ll be coming back here often throughout the application season.

Now, register to create a profile for yourself. Remember your username and password, and keep them somewhere secure. You’ll be entering a lot of sensitive information into this form, and you don’t want to be careless with it.

Once you’ve registered, you can the schools to which you want to apply using a simple search interface. By selecting these schools, the CommonApp platform will automatically lead you through the relevant school supplements once you’ve finished the basic parts of the Common Application itself. 

Before you start filling out the application, it’s helpful to collect all the information you’ll need to answer the questions accurately. 

You may need to speak with your parents to get the appropriate information for each section. These are resources you’ll want to keep handy while you are working:

  • Your social security number
  • Your parents’ employment information and educational history
  • Your high school transcripts (unofficial are ok for now)
  • Your resume 
  • A list of your activities, honors, and awards
  • Your guidance counselor’s contact information
  • Your standardized test scores (if you choose to self-report)

With this information on-hand, you can easily fill out five of the six sections of the Common Application: 

  • Profile (your contact and demographic information)
  • Family (your parents’ or guardians’ contact information, employment, and education)
  • Education (your high school, grades, and current courses)
  • Testing (your standardized test scores) 
  • Activities (your extracurriculars and volunteer, research, and work experiences)

When you are making lists of awards, extracurriculars, or work experience, be sure to list these items in some logical way. For awards and work experience — and to some extent, extracurriculars — you’ll want to list them chronologically. However, for extracurriculars, you may want to be strategic about the way you list them. Chronologically is fine, but also consider listing your activities in order of importance to you, or in order of the magnitude of your involvement (i.e., if you are president of one of the clubs, you may want to list that club at the top of your list). Remember, admissions officers like to see commitment and leadership in your extracurriculars, so prioritize these elements.

Once you’ve filled in what you can, make sure to click “Save” before you exit the system. The next time you log in, all of the information you’ve entered previously will be right where you left it, and you can go back to edit or enter additional information at any time. And check out our posts on writing the personal statement to get started on the last, probably most important, element of the Common App!

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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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