7 Mistakes For Your Students to Avoid On The Common App

May 25, 2021

Help Your Students Ace The Common Application


Applying to college can be a stressful process for students and parents and counselors alike. From narrowing down a list of potential schools to apply to, to test prep and college tours, it can be easy for students to feel overwhelmed. 

The Common Application (better known as the Common App) was designed to help alleviate student stress. Using the Common App’s platform, students can apply to multiple colleges on the same platform. More than 900 colleges, including institutions from all 50 states and in 20 countries, are members of the platform. Using one platform like the Common App can save an applicant time and stress, but there are still many misconceptions about how to get the best results using the Common App. 

Keep reading for seven common misconceptions about the application and how you can better equip your students with the tips they need to master the Common App. 

Mistake #1: “It’s called the Common Application, so I can send one application to a bunch of colleges… less work for me!” 


One of the best ways to equip your students for success on the Common App is to educate them on the ins and outs of how the application works. The first step is to bust the myth that it’s a “one and done” application. While the Common App is great for centralizing general information, it is important to help students understand that the Common App is a single platform, not a single application. Each college the student is applying to through the Common App will have different requirements to meet, and many of them have their own school-specific supplements and essays as well. 

Mistake #2: “My college counselor is nagging me about stuff. I can ignore her until I need her.”


Work with your student to help them understand your school’s process and timeline for college advising and for navigating the different components of the college application. That will save everyone time in the long run. Share this post with them to remind them how to work effectively with their teachers and counselors for everything from processing transcripts to asking for recommendations.


Remind your students that timelines are very important to the admissions outcome, and that getting their applications started sooner rather than later will help them beat the stress of applications in the long run. Current Juniors can work through our 52 Weeks to College series to keep themselves on track

Mistake #3: “Some of my colleges are test-optional, others aren’t. I’ll just report all my scores on the Common App form.”


Hundreds of colleges now offer a test-optional policy. This removes the testing requirement and lets students apply without ever showing their scores to those colleges. This is a good option for students who believe their test scores aren’t an accurate reflection of their high school academic performance or future academic potential. While applying test-optional may be the best option for your students in some cases, there may still be some schools on the Common App they are applying to which require test scores or recommend them. 


If a student self-reports scores on the Common Application, then even the schools they choose to apply to as test-optional will be able to see their scores. So it’s important to report scores on a college-by-college basis.

Mistake #4: “Colleges like lots of activities, right? I’ll list everything I can think of, plus the stuff my mom thinks is really important, like Saturday morning Zumba.”


The Common Application Activities section is a crucial piece of the application puzzle. 

Not every activity merits space on the college application! Students should focus on what we call the Cour Four when deciding which activities to include, and what aspects to focus on. Here’s a post on the Cour Four that admissions officers look for when reviewing activities, and applications more generally.  

Mistake #5: “I’ll use the same Common App personal essay for every college.”


The Common App personal essay is the main personal statement students submit to colleges. We recommend that students ALWAYS submit this essay, even though some colleges make it optional. This essay is a chance for students to share something personal and go deeper on their interests, passions, and strengths. 


Students do NOT have to submit the same Common App personal essay topic to each college, and sometimes they shouldn’t. For example, if a Common App personal essay topic works really well for an essay on a college-specific supplement, then students should use that essay topic for the supplement, and pick a different topic for the Common App personal essay for that particular college.

Mistake #6: “I see schools asking for my social media handles. I should include those, right?”


Nearly 70% of college admissions officers believe students’ social media accounts are fair game in the admissions process. However, according to Inside Higher Ed’s survey of admissions officers, only about a third of admissions officers actually look at students’ social media accounts. They simply don’t have time. But it’s is still important that students err on the side of caution online. If a college asks for social media handles, students should leave those blank.


Encourage your students to audit their social media accounts, delete any fake accounts, and think about how they want to present themselves to the outside world, including admissions officers. 

Mistake #7: “Once I’ve hit the Submit button, my work is done.”


Once a student submits their application, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s all done and they just need to wait it out. But there’s so much students can be doing while waiting! 


  • They should confirm directly with each individual college that the application has indeed been received. It’s not enough to rely on Naviance, for example.
  • Work with your student to promptly resolve any issues that come up, like missing files or test scores. 
  • Use this down time to help your students prepare for college admissions interviews


The college application process can be confusing, especially for students whose families are new to the process. Equip your students with the knowledge they need to master the process and submit their very best college applications.

Help your students ace the college admissions process. Get our free checklist for Juniors and Seniors.

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