#College Essays and Applications

If you are applying to college, you will almost certainly be using the Common Application. The original intent behind the Common App idea was to lower the barriers to applying by reducing the amount of paperwork and confusion a student might come across. What has become a convenience for students has in some ways presented other easily avoidable and navigable hurdles. While we have plenty of tips and advice for each section of the Common App, here’s our list of 7 pieces of advice when it comes to thinking about the Common App at-large.

Not proofreading the “Print Previewing”

The Common Application allows you to review your application as a PDF in the same format that admissions officers will see your application. Make sure you review this PDF, which can be accessed before the payment and signature pages. (Don’t worry if it says submit as part of the navigation button – as long as you have not paid for or signed/dated the application it will not actually be submitted.) When you look over the PDF, make sure you proofread for spelling, grammar, and accuracy but also make sure you proofread for formatting! Check to make sure that none of your answers are cut off and that all your information in inputted into the correct data fields.

Careless mistakes in an application communicate to admissions officers a lack of effort. In a pool of thousands (or tens of thousands) of applicants, you do not want to appear like you are not taking the application seriously.

Copy and pasting resumes

Some schools might ask or allow for a resume, and if they do, you can be assured they will have specific instructions on how to submit that document. Most schools, however, do not ask for a resume and will use the Academic, Extracurricular, and Awards & Honors sections to paint a more detailed view than what a one-page document can provide. Simply copying and pasting a resume into the Additional Information section is not only unnecessary and sometimes unwanted, but can often lead to formatting errors that disrupt the rest of your application. Bottom line: do not submit a resume unless a college asks for it.

Not using each area to tell your story

It is called the Common Application because the same one application is sent to all the schools, not because each of the sections should contain the same information! Admissions officers will read your Common Application as one continuous document. Make sure you are organizing your information into the sections where it fits best rather than trying to figure out how you can work every piece into every section. Your Common App should collectively tell a story, so allow that story to develop throughout the application. Don’t repeat yourself needlessly.

Writing about specific colleges outside of their supplements

You should not write anything specific about a school you are applying to in the bulk of the Common App. After all, if you write in the Additional Information section how much you love East College and how it is your first choice school, each school you apply to will see this information! Keep the Common App information common to all the schools you are applying to and the school specific information in the sections unique to each school. Proofreading (see above) will also help catch this most embarrassing mistake!

Waiting until the last minute

Procrastination is never a good idea, and the Common App is no exception. While students should get the process started when they are ready, sticking closer to August 1st is a better idea than December 31st. Adding schools to your Common App early will allow you to view the supplementary sections that are otherwise unviewable and will add you to a list of interested students the school can use to send you information and marketing materials. Starting earlier will also allow your teachers to submit their recommendations earlier. And at the very least, starting earlier can help you avoid the last minute rush so you are not affected by high web traffic at 11:59pm or last-minute technical difficulties the Common Application has experienced in recent years.


It goes without saying, but you should not falsify any information on your application. If you do not have a class rank, do not put a class rank. If you are not the president of an organization, do not put you are president. Inconsistencies are giant red flags to an admissions committee. Something that you say that doesn’t line up with what a teacher or guidance counselor writes about you in their recommendation or that doesn’t line up with something you’ve put elsewhere in your application is likely to be uncovered and can put the rest of the application into question. You’ve worked hard during your entire high school career; don’t let something so silly taint it all. In the Activities section, admissions officers can add up the hours and recognize an impossible level of extracurricular commitment.

Picking the wrong essay topic

Your Personal Statement should be you on a page. The Common App gives 7 different topics to choose from, and given the seventh is “Topic of your choice” you can certainly write about any topic you choose that will best demonstrate to the admissions committee who you are. Three of the prompts accounted for nearly 75% of all student personal statements last year, and “Topic of your choice” was not the most answered! Don’t feel compelled to pick one prompt because it might stand out or another prompt because someone told you that’s the one admissions committees want to read about (they don’t care). Write your Personal Statement about what you want the committee to know and understand about you.

If you need guidance in choosing a topic and crafting a personal statement, contact us today through our website or at info@myivyexperience.com!