By Jasmin Figueroa

We have looked over a few things regarding the Common App these past few weeks. The Common App is a great resource for organizing your information, activities, and test scores in a unified way that makes it easier to release and hand over to various colleges on your list. At first, the Common App can seem overwhelming, so to avoid any downfalls during your application process, here are 20 things you can do to optimize the Common App! 

1. Proofreading All Personal Information 

This may sound like a minor detail, considering the various components to the Common App. However, it is crucial that all your personal information on the Common App is correct because there is a giant dilemma inputting the incorrect address or misspelling your name on your own college application. All of these hiccups can cause colleges to receive the wrong information and in turn not be able to reach you when needed. To avoid mix-ups, make sure to avoid errors and submit clean applications. 

2. Doing Your Application YOURSELF 

The main point here is this is your future education. It is completely acceptable to receive help from a mentor or a parent. In fact, that is totally encouraged! But it is important that at the end of the day you are completing the application. If it isn’t you typing it then it’s less authentic and doesn’t fully depict you with all your personal interests, grades, and involvements. No one knows you better than you, so take pride in yourself and fully commit to writing your application. It will be an even more rewarding feeling when colleges accept you and appreciate your hard work.

3.  Adding Multiple Languages 

You can add more than just the languages your fluent in into your Common App profile. Being able to read and write in more than two or three languages, even if it is at a minimal level, shows admissions officers what you are interested in. It gives them a glimpse of the type of student you are going to be and whether or not you will want to learn outside of the one topic you are going to focus on while in college. Add languages that you are proficient in because it will add value to your application and they totally matter!

4. Add Community Based Organizations!

If you received any type of outside help from organizations around your community make sure to give them credit for the way they assisted you. This can be organizations like Quest Bridge and the Boys and Girls Club. Community-based organizations are designed to be a resource for you and providing the correct acknowledgment is another way of thanking them for their help. Remember private counselors or even your guidance counselors, although helpful, are not community-based organizations and can receive recognition in another part of your application.

5. Having an Interest/Focus (Pick a Major)

Don’t let the thought of choosing a major scare you. It’s okay to not be 100% sure of what you want to be when you grow up and not have it all figured out. Deciding on what you are interested in studying in college does not make it concrete and definite. You can always change your major or decide to go in a different direction. Pick a major that you want to learn more about because by doing this you are allowing admissions officers to know more about you. If you did “undecided” then there’s really not much depth to it, leaving it really generic and not super insightful.

6. Humility in Your Involvements Go a Long Way 

For some students, it can be tempting to write so much about all the activities they did in the Common App to look more impressive. Things that are over-exaggerated are easy to see in an application and adding more than the truth is a dangerous place to venture to. When writing about your extracurricular activities, focus on the achievements you received. Be honest, and talk about the experiences you had. You don’t want to add in accomplishments that never happened or input hours that don’t add up with being a full-time student. Share your passion for the activities you participated in, and remember that it’s okay if you don’t fill up the entire section. Admissions officers use this section to see what else you were involved in aside from academics and get the chance to read about how you used your extra time. 

7. Optimize the Space Provided (Don’t Over/Under Do It)

On a similar note, when filling out your activities section you want to be as specific as possible. You have the chance to add up to 150 characters for each activity. This is more than enough space to summarize your extracurriculars and prioritize the main points you want to include in your application. Try not to be vague or sound generic when mentioning each activity you have participated in.

8. Specify your Acronyms for your organizations  

When writing out organizations it’s important that the admissions officers have an idea of what the institutions you are mentioning stand for. If the organizations you mention are uncommon make sure to write it all out, because admissions officers won’t know right away what the acronyms stand for, especially if it is not a well-known organization.

9. Listing Academia Only in the Honors List Section

While achieving a nationwide award for something outside of academics, that achievement can be placed in a different part of your application. When it comes to the Honors subsection, make sure that what you are listing are academic achievements, whether it be a published journal or an award given to you at school. 

10. Having Correct Grades Inputted 

When you are inputting your grades into the Common App, make sure that the grades are definitely accurate and have the consistency they need to have for when the admissions officers take a look. The last thing you want is for your transcripts to say something totally different than what your Common App says.

11. Having Correct Standardized Exam Scores 

The same goes for test scores. You definitely do not want to type in the wrong standardized test scores because your official test scores will be sent out through College Board. So, the last thing you want to do is have two different test scores reach the admissions office, this will only lead those reading your application to question your integrity. 

12. Selecting the Correct Essay Topic 

When entering your personal statement into the Common App, you want to make sure that it matches the essay prompt you are answering. When the incorrect prompt is picked it only leads to admissions officers thinking you did not answer the prompt fully or just be completely confused about your personal statement. This can be a downfall to your application because your personal statement is a pivotal piece to admissions officers getting to know more about you.

13.  Answer All Parts of the Essay

Once you know that the prompt you selected matches with your personal statement you want to be sure that you have answered everything that the prompt has asked. Make sure to read carefully every note and exactly what the question is asking before you complete your essay. Write an outline and have mentors proofread it multiple times after writing it. Once you know that it is a good final draft, enter it into the Common App! 

14. A Personal Statement Should Be Personal

A personal statement should be an essay focused primarily on you. It should be totally personal. The essay is your chance to tell a story about your life and let the reader get a glimpse of who you are and what you have experienced. It’s a good idea to avoid putting the focus on someone else, even if they did inspire you tremendously. Mention briefly the impact that made on you and then continue on with narrating a story completely fixed on you. 

15. Go Through Multiple Drafts

This was mentioned before. Multiple drafts for your personal statement should definitely be a thing. Why? Because going through multiple drafts allows for tiny mistakes to be fixed and for the flow of the essay to be improved. Your writing is the icing on top of the amazing context that your essay will have. Having a flawless essay will allow admissions officers to focus on your story.

16. Have Unique Supplemental Essays 

This is a big one. Even when some prompts overlap you want to be able to make your supplemental essays sound unique. Using the same ones over and over again is not the best form of letting colleges know why you want to attend their school specifically. If they’re taking their time to read your application, and many others, it’s best to put in the effort and write different essays for each question that colleges ask you. 

17. Use the Additional Information Section Wisely 

This is key to winning your audience. What many don’t know is that this is not the section to continue on writing about your activities, or adding more to your personal statement. This is for when you want to mention any difficult situations that reflected in a specific school year. It can also be a place where you share your art portfolio, research, etc. 

18. Always Save Before Going to the Next Section

Don’t forget to click save! Not saving everything you do in each section can be costly. It will end up causing frustration when everything you worked on for hours just erases. So to avoid any tragic losses, make sure to click the save button before exiting a section.

19. Remember Not All Schools are on the Common App

Make sure to note the schools you are applying to and be 100% aware of their application process. Although many of the schools are on the Common App, not all of them are included such as the University of California schools. Be aware of their application process and its requirements. 

20. Start Early and Prepare!

Finally, procrastination is not your friend. This cannot be stressed enough. You do not want to leave your Common App last minute and attempt to complete all in a couple of hours. It is always best to start early and prepare for it all. Start to tackle it towards the end of summer, when you have more free time, and explore the different parts to the Common App. Once it opens [in August] you can log on to and start to fill it out.