Common Application 101: Complete Breakdown

Common Application

In this article, I will explain the different parts of the Common Application and give helpful suggestions.


Student Information

Student Information section asks your personal information such as your contact details, education background, and parents’ education background. This section is the easiest to fill.



There are three types of essays in the Common Application: Personal Essay, Additional Information Essay, and School-specific essays.

  • Personal Essays (250-650 words)

This is a required portion of the Common Application. In the years 2017-2018, the essay prompts are as follows.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”
  • Additional Information Essay (up to 650 words)

This is not a required part of the Common Application. It is perfectly fine not to complete this section. However, you want to complete this section if you have special circumstances.  For example,  I wrote an essay about my helping other international students who were struggling. In my essay, I described a struggling international student and how I have helped him to succeed. Additional information such as family circumstances or unique experiences should be included in this essay to give the admission officers better picture of you. Remember, the more information the colleges know about you as an applicant, the better it is for you.

The essay prompt of additional information essay is: “You may use the space below to provide any additional information you wish to share.”

  • School-Specific Essays

Some selective colleges requires you to write separate essays in addition to the application. This type of essay has typically 100-500 word limit. For tips on writing school-specific essays, read this article.


Suggestions about Essays

First, work on the Common Application essays. While working on the Common Application essay, finalize your college list. Once you have finalized your college list, start working on the college-specific essays. In a word document, make a complete list of the colleges to which you are applying and the supplemental essays. This will help you to keep track of the requirements and to motivate you.



Common Application requires one recommendation from your counselor. However, most colleges require one recommendation from your counselor and two from your teacher. Here is some tips regarding recommendation:

  • Ask your junior year teachers for recommendations. Although you can ask your senior or sophomore teachers, your senior teacher did not spent enough time to write a strong recommendation letter, and your sophomore teachers might not remember quite well about your accomplishments.
  • Ask them one month in advance of the deadline. Your teachers should not be rushed to write you a good recommendation.
  • When you are asking your teachers for recommendation letters, talk to your teacher about your accomplishments and ask them to emphasize certain character/academic traits. For example, you should ask you teacher to emphasize your class interaction or your leadership skills.
  • Send them a thank-you note.

In the Common Application, you will be asked to provide your recommenders’ email addresses. Once you have submitted the email address, the recommenders will receive a link to the recommendation form. You will be notified in the Common Application when your recommenders have filed the form.


Counselor Recommendation

School Report and Recommendation

Your counselor will need to submit a recommendation and a school report for your application. Like teacher’s recommendation, you will need to provide your counselor’s email address. Your counselor will provide information such as your weighted and unweighted GPA, class rank, and his/her evaluation of you. The deadline for a school report and a recommendation is the same as the college application deadline.


Mid-year Report

Some colleges require your counselor to submit Mid-Year Report. Mid-Year Report is submitted by your counselor when the first semester grades are available (Around December to January). It contains your first semester grades of your senior year and any additional updates. Your first semester grade might influence your admission results because the admission results did not come out yet. Your counselor can complete this form by logging in to their Common Application counselor’s account.


Final Report

Some Colleges require you to submit the Final Report which includes your second semester grades, final class rank, and final GPA. This will not affect your decision because you have been already accepted. However, if your grades drop significantly (as in A to a D), colleges might rescind their decision. Like the Mid-year Report, your counselor can complete this by logging in to the Common Application counselor’s account.


Recommended Timeline for the Common Application

During the Summer
  • Work on the personal essay
  • Start your college list
Beginning of the school year
  1. Send recommendations to your teachers and counselor
  2. Cut down your college list
October 1
  1. Finish the Common Application essays
  2. Work on Early Decision essays
  3. Finalize your college list
November 1
  • Finish your Early Decision essays
  • Start working on school-specific essays
  • Finalize the Common Application

Start submitting the application to colleges as soon as you finish the school-specific essays. This will greatly alleviate your stress when the deadlines are approaching.


I hope that you have find valuable information in this article. Please comment if you have any questions!!


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38 Responses

  1. Sir. How we can apply these essays or whatever you required from students.
    May it be by the way of scan documents.

  2. nazar yousif abdelgadir says:

    how we can apply

  3. marina says:

    I want to continue my education to have a good future.

  4. marina says:

    How can I apply?

  5. Rafnight Rendon says:

    How can I enroll online?

  6. Rudra Pratap Samal says:

    It is looking so helpful for me in my future.


  7. Muhannad says:

    my name is Muhannad from Libya I am interested to get a scholarships at HUB.

    • lh1999 says:

      You can make an account, and then search for HUB. If that college is in common app, feel free to apply for scholarships.

  8. oluwatomisin says:

    How can i enroll online

  9. oluwatomisin says:

    Can I use O’level result

  10. oluwatomisin says:

    When will the registration close

  11. lgwe Moses says:

    How can i applied online,am interested sir.

  12. Deddeh T.Miller says:

    How can I get the application form ? how to apply

  13. Mohamed says:

    I want to study medicine at Harvard University.

  14. Thobani says:

    I think that this is a great opportunity. How do I apply?

  15. Alondra says:

    Hello! I’m not quite sure if I understood this. I’m a Chilean girl and want to study either archaeology or psychology and don’t have the American nationality. Can I apply for a scholarship and do I need some specific grades or knowledge of any kind to apply?

    • lh1999 says:

      Yes, you can apply for scholarships. You need to write essays, and grades depend on the requirements of your college.

  16. SANGITA KHAN says:

    How do I apply for these essay?

  17. Alyn says:

    I also don’t understand how to get scholarship of Harvard university. I just 14 years old so i don’t understand about it. Can you help me please?

    • lh1999 says:

      Application through the common application is viable for high school juniors or seniors, can you wait for a few years before applying?

  18. Diana says:

    Hello, am l supposed to write an essay for one question or for all the questions about the personal essay?

    • lh1999 says:

      It depends! Sometimes, the essays are optional, and some essays are required. But it is better to fill out even the optional essays since it will give you a better chance of getting accepted.

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