Ivy League Admission Tips: Completing the Common Application

The Common Application, also known as the Common App, will be your best friend during the college application process. This online tool offers a standardized application, including one set of essay questions, that is accepted by more than 700 colleges and universities. If you are applying to multiple colleges, the Common App will save you time and effort.

The Common App goes live on August 1 of each year for applications for the following school year. Although your application deadlines may be in the fall or early winter, it’s best to get started on the process early. Here are some Ivy League admission tips that will ensure that the process goes smoothly.

Preparing to Complete the Common Application

  • Get started as soon as possible. You’ll need time to gather what you need and start thinking about and drafting your answers to the questions and essay prompts. Our successful students spend 20 to 30 hours on their applications and write five or more drafts of their essays.
  • Request a copy of your most recent high school transcript and your SAT/ACT scores. You want to make sure the information you enter is accurate. Did you take AP or honors courses that offer additional grade points? If so, report your weighted GPA.
  • Make a list of extracurricular activities, awards, community service/volunteer work, and jobs.
  • Ask your high school guidance counselor to write you a letter of recommendation. It is best to send your request formally by email or letter and allow your counselor plenty of time.
  • Sign up for a Common App account and create a secure password. Familiarize yourself with the website, and make sure to browse the questions and answers on the Student Solutions Center page section.
  • Make sure that the colleges you want to apply to accept the Common App. Many colleges participate, but some private schools and state colleges and universities do not. Check the list on the Common App website.
  • Check the requirements for the schools on your list. Make sure that you can satisfy them and that you have gathered the necessary materials. Some schools require supplemental essays in addition to the standard essays in the App.

Filling in the Blanks

  • Read and follow all the directions. If you skip a mandatory question or do not include all the required supplements, your application may be rejected. Also, pay attention to limits on the word count or the number of extracurricular activities.
  • Report your best individual test scores. If you are not satisfied with your scores, see if there is time to retake the tests.
  • List the courses you are planning to take in your senior year. If you make significant changes to your academic course schedule, be sure to notify the colleges you applied to.
  • In the “Writing” section, you will be asked to write about one of your extracurricular activities. If you’ve already mentioned an activity in your main essay, select a different activity to discuss here.
  • The “Additional Information” section lets colleges know if you have any special circumstances such as health needs, special education needs, or accommodations. Don’t use this space to squeeze in a work sample, for instance.
  • If you have disciplinary action on your record, don’t try to hide it. If another source informs the college that you were disciplined, they could reverse their decision to accept you. You could ask a supportive teacher or counselor to help you write an honest explanation of how you learned from the experience.
  • A college application is an opportunity to show your target schools who you are. Work on presenting a different aspect of yourself in each question (while staying on topic). Also, consider answering the optional questions.
  • Remember that each school is unique. Be sure to tailor your responses to show why you are applying to that particular school.

Last Steps

By now, you’ve invested much time and hard work in this process, so you want to make sure a simple mistake doesn’t trip you up.

  • Make sure that the application is complete and that you have followed all directions. Admissions committees may not consider incomplete applications.
  • Reread your application a few days after completing it and check for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and typos. Then, ask someone else to proofread your application.
    Filling out the Common App is not easy. It takes hard work. If you’d like some assistance, our team is here to help.