Application and Essay Tips

Check the Expert Answers to These Six Common App FAQs

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Many students and families are aware of the Common Application, which allows students to apply to many colleges and universities at once using one “common application.” Each year, more than one million students, one-third of whom are first-generation, apply to college through the Common App’s free online platform, which streamlines the admission process.

There are several frequently-asked questions that many students have about using the Common Application to apply for college. Here are some answers to the top six FAQs, which will hopefully make your journey using the Common Application even easier.


1. Do All Schools Use the Common App?

No, not all schools use the Common App, but more than 800 colleges and universities do accept it. You can search for colleges that accept the Common App online.

2. When Can I Start the Common App for Applying to College for Fall 2019?

The 2018-2019 Common App launched on Aug. 1. So, you can start now! In addition, the Common App for transfer students also became available on the same date.

“The Common App is dedicated to supporting the large and diverse group of students who didn’t take the so-called traditional path to college but are determined to earn their bachelor's degrees,” notes a spokesperson for the Common Application. “We're just as determined to meet these students where they are in their lives and help them pursue their dreams. Whether you’re a current undergraduate student looking to switch to a new four-year institution, or a community college student, an adult learner or a military veteran pursuing your bachelor’s degree, the Common App for transfer will help guide you in the right direction.”

3. What Are the Essay Topics for Fall 2019?

The 2018-2019 Common Application essay prompts are now available, and they are the same as the previous set of essay prompts that were for 2017-2018.

Now is a good time to start thinking about which essay you will write. According to the Common App, the most popular essay prompts that students chose last year (in the 2017-2018 application year through Jan. 5, 2018) was "Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6 percent), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5 percent) and "Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4 percent).

4. How Many College Applications Can I Complete Through the Common App?

Students may apply to up to 20 higher education institutions through the Common App. However, most students don’t use the Common App to its full advantage. In fact, the average number of applications for students applying through the Common App is just 4.8 colleges, according to the Common Application.

5. Is There a Limit to the Number of Extracurricular Activities I Can List? How Do I Prioritize?

Yes, there is a limit. You can list up to 10 activities on The Common Application -- but don’t feel like you have to list 10 activities — fewer than 10 is fine, too.

“Colleges are not impressed with the quantity of activities a student participated in but rather the quality time that was spent in those activities,” notes Joel Lang, director of college advisement and school counseling at Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del.

It is important that you prioritize your list of activities in this section. “List the activity that was most important to you (the student) first and then list the other activities in descending order of importance, again, to you,” advises Lang. “The colleges want to know what is important to you and you can demonstrate that by listing your activities in order of importance.

6. What Should I Put in the "Additional Information" Section?

The "Additional Information" section can be used to include information that is not already in another section of the Common Application.

“The additional information section should only be used if it is truly necessary to give more details on unique activities or extenuating circumstances which were not explained anywhere else in the application,” advises Ashley McNaughton, founder of ACM College Consulting, LLC in Fort Myers, Fla. “This may include illness, change of school, transcript discrepancies, disciplinary action, test score spikes, unique curriculum choice, etc. Sometimes certain activities such as a pre-college summer program or something else unique may require extra description.” 

Lang says that students can use the additional information section to include information that has meaning to them or has impacted them in some way. For example, a student can use this section to explain these unique circumstances:

- How life changed when a sick grandparent came to live with the family

- Why grades dropped in a specific school year (extended illness, family troubles, moving to a new state/country, etc.)

- That a parent lost his/her job and its impact on the household

Ready to complete your Common App? Get started here.