Common App Day Is Here!

Read this before you dive in
August 1, 2020

The 2020-21 Common App is live, hurrah!Ā  šŸ’ƒ

If you haven't already, be sure to install Inline, because thisĀ week you are finally ready to really get started on those applications.

I know you expect that this is when weā€™ll suggest you get going on the essays, but there's some important timing to keep in mind. Here are some reminders from last week, and some new things to keep in mind starting today:

First, some of the college supplements areĀ available today, but not all of them are.

The Common App will releaseĀ college supplements overĀ the next few months.

I know... we wish they were all released at the same time too, but the colleges all work off of their own roll-out schedules.

Second, DON'T start working on your Common App personal essay just yet.

Youā€™ll generate better topics for the essayĀ once youā€™ve seen what information is shared in other places on the application.

You want to use every question on the application wisely, and that means revealing as many dimensions of yourself as you can ā€“ so thereā€™s no reason to repeat something in an essay that youā€™ve already gotten to include elsewhere in the application.

Thatā€™s because admissions officers donā€™t evaluate your essay in a vacuum, and you shouldnā€™t work on your essay in a vacuum either.Ā 

Thatā€™s what a holistic admissions process is all about. Your best essay will be the one that fits into the rest of your application takenĀ as a whole.

What are you going to do then in the meantime?

All the ā€œeasyā€ parts of the application: your contact info, your family info, your educational background, and your activities.

They are easy because they require information that you can easily get, and they donā€™t have to be answered in essay format, BUT they are important to get right, and attention to detail is very important. These questions contain information that is vital to improving your chances for admission, so they are worth focusing on now.

A bonus: If you do these easy parts now, you can get them perfect and you wonā€™t be sweating them at the last minute, which is a sure way to botch it.



  • CreateĀ yourĀ Common AppĀ accountĀ online with a valid email address and password.

  • Download your copy ofĀ Inline, which provides specific hints for each question in the non-writing sections of the Common App that you'll be starting with.

  • Complete the non-writing parts of the application. Those sections are usually the first sections you are asked to complete. For example, on the Common App those sections are labeled Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities. Some colleges also use the Common Appā€™s Self-Reported Transcript section.Ā 
  • IF YOU ARE APPLYING TO A PERFORMING OR VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM and a portfolio or audition is required, or you have researched it and determined that submitting supplementary materials like these is beneficial, begin working on them now. The pandemic has made auditioning in person particularly problematic, so check each collegeā€™s website to find out how they plan to handle auditions for the coming year. Pay close attention to the technical requirements for portfolios and auditions, and focus your efforts on works and/or audition pieces that meet these requirements. Admissions officers either flat out refuse to consider things that donā€™t meet the requirements, or they have a negative bias towards them (and by extension the applicant).




Check that you'reĀ fillingĀ out the factual questions accurately and to your advantage.

What are factual questions? These are questions asking you about you and your family: your age, your gender, your state of residence, your citizenship, your languages, your ethnicity or race, and your veteran status.

If you don't feel as if the boxes on the application really represent who you are, check the ones that come closest, and then use the Additional Information question of the Writing section of the application to elaborate. If you're a legacy, see if you can work that in. Also make sure to use your legal name on all your college application documents so that your name is consistent (that will save you lots of headaches later). Follow the U.S. format for dates (month/day/year). Use a reliable snail-mail and email address. Proofread!

Check that your activities list conveys the Core Four.

Go back to the work you did inĀ Week 2Ā of the 26 Weeks to College series, and as you review your activities list in the application, make sure you've communicated all the activities that tell your story, and that you've conveyed the Core Four (don't forget impact in particular).

Also make sure you've made use of the space available to you in the activities list. The Common App has added more character count for you in the Activities field this cycle, so take advantage of all that space they now give you!


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.


the word.