Common App: 3 Things to Know

By: Texas OnCourse
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When designing Texas OnCourse’s offerings, we did a lot of research into what counselors and students wanted to know about college and career prep. One of our findings stood out:

Students and educators are anxious about the Common Application.

We get it! While the Common App makes it easier to apply to many colleges, including most Ivy League schools and many private colleges across the nation, that doesn’t make the college application process simple. Fortunately, in addition to our training module on the Common App, we have included 3 top tips for students as well as for counselors, parents and guardians below.


Top 3 tips for students:

Make sure that you understand the difference between Early Decision, Early Application and Regular Decision.

It’s always a good idea to apply as early as possible for your dream school. However, the Common Application’s “Early Decision” option is very high commitment, and should be used cautiously. When selecting "Early Decision, " there may be some flexibility in getting out of the agreement if the financial aid package does not cover the cost of attendance. However, you miss the opportunity to shop around, as Early Decision students must rescind other applications submitted through Common App. This selection can be very limiting if money is a concern.

A more comprehensive description of this important distinction is available on the Princeton review website.

Don’t get too bogged down in essay topics; find your strengths and apply them.

With 1 requisite and 6 optional essay topics, plus individual schools’ supplemental essays, TIME magazine suggests a student could in theory submit up to 22 essays via Common App. Don’t be daunted! Think about what makes you a talented and unique candidate, and be sure to share anecdotes that support each of those qualities. Then, use the essay prompts as guides to re-package those stories to meet each college’s expectations.

More information on how to best market yourself in essays is available in the TIME article we referenced above.

Have essays and resume on hand to copy and paste.

A frustration many students run into when writing in the Common App is that your session can time out when you’re writing an essay or filling out your list of extracurriculars and accomplishments. That’s why it’s best to have your college resume on hand to copy and paste from, and also to write your essays in a word processor and copy and paste.

This and other tips to make sure your essays are well formatted are available on the Common App website.


Top 3 tips for counselors, parents and guardians:

All of the below suggestions are taken from our Common App training module, one of three modules we released in July.

To aid your students, create a practice account.

The folks at Common App know that parents, guardians, counselors and teachers need to see the Common Application in order to help their students. Rather than signing up for a real account, families and educators can sign up for their own “practice account.” Sign up as an education professional or a parent/guardian to check out essay topics, requisite info, and more to help students prepare before they even sign up.

Understand FERPA.

Each applicant is required to make a decision on the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) Authorization Release Form. The FERPA Authorization Release form gives students the option to waive their right to review confidential letters of recommendation submitted on their behalf. Make sure you understand where the FERPA release form is - perhaps by trying it out on your practice account - so you can help your student find this requisite piece of information, and make an informed decision regarding privacy.

Understand DACA (citizenship questions for undocumented students).

Undocumented students or students who currently hold DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Status will be asked to disclose their citizenship status in the “Profile” section, and should select the following options:

  • “Other (Non-US)” for citizenship status
  • The student’s country of citizenship
  • “I do not hold a current valid U.S. non-immigrant” from the “Currently held United States visa” field


While these tips aren't comprehensive, we hope that the resources provided, as well as our Common App training module, start you on the path to success!