10 Tips for Dealing with Common App Glitches

10 Tips for Dealing with Common App Glitches

For anyone applying to college, dealing with the Common Application can be stressful.

To help alleviate any pressures inflicted by Common App glitches, here is a summary of the best tips we’ve found to get you through the process a little more smoothly…


Common Application Mistakes to Avoid

1. Avoid Admissions Deadline Traffic Jams

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The software grinds to a crawl and Print Previews are slow to emerge. More importantly, the software sometimes experiences mini-crashes as it tries to deal with heavy loads of applicants.

Whatever you do, avoid the 24 hours immediately preceding major due dates (October 15, November 1, November 15, for early admission applications and January 1 for regular admissions).

2. Don’t Format Your Essay in the Text Boxes

Editing your personal statement from within the tiny little text box dedicated to this purpose is a very bad idea.

Your Word document should be prepared using a recognizable typeface (nothing fancy). It should be single-spaced, double-space between paragraphs (two hard returns), and with no indents.

Break up line paragraphs into smaller groupings of sentences. The Common App counts words (650), not spaces. A long paragraph can make a reader (an admissions officer)fell overwhelmed before evening beginning to read the essay.

Any formatting (italics, bold, underline only) should be done on the document and not in the box.

Once you are satisfied with the document, then copy-and-paste it directly into the box. Don’t touch the box. Yes, it may look funny and a warning may appear. Simply hit continue and work toward producing a Print Preview.

3. Invite Your Recommenders

Most Common App colleges either require or allow for you to have a number of recommendations submitted on your behalf.

Once you have agreed to the FERPA waiver, you will be prompted to enter information on your school counselor as well as any teachers or “others” who have agreed to write recommendations.

You can save yourself grief by asking your recommenders in advance if they will be submitting electronically or by paper.

If they indicate that they will be submitting by paper (and given all the problems recommenders have been experiencing, this is not a bad idea), enter only names and titles and NOT email addresses into the assigned spaces.

You will then be provided with personalized offline forms you can download and hand to your counselor and/or recommenders (don’t forget stamped, addressed envelopes to go along with).

If you enter an email address, your recommender will have to respond and this can produce problems for you and for them (not always but sometimes).

4. Don’t Forget the Writing Supplement

Looking for a quick and easy way to determine which of your colleges require the submission of additional essays?

Click on the “My Colleges” tab. If you see “Writing Supplement” as an option underneath any of your schools, you’ll definitely have additional writing to complete.

However, if you don’t see “Writing Supplement” under a particular school’s name, there’s still a chance that extra essays are required.

Sometimes essays don’t show up until after you’ve selected a particular major or unique academic program (such as a combined BS/MD or honors program).

[How Do You Write a Supplemental Essay?]

5. Selecting Your Academic Interest

On most school specific supplements, students are asked to identify one or two (or possibly more) areas of academic interest. Amherst’s question reads, “Please indicate your primary academic interest,” while Bard’s is worded, “What academic program at Bard College interests you?”

In both of these cases, be aware that not all of the choices available on the drop down menu are actual majors offered by that institution! 

So, as you’re making your academic selections, do yourself a favor and double-check the school’s website.

If you can confirm that your academic area of interest is indeed available, by all means choose it! If not, select a similar major or simply opt for “Undecided.”

6. Updating Your Common App Personal Statement

Students are allowed to make unlimited corrections to their main essay.

After you submit your application to School A, you can “unlock” your essay to make any necessary edits. Then you can submit it to school B and so on.

To edit the personal essay, go back into the Common App tab and click on the Writing section. Click within the text box and make any changes that are needed.  Be sure to save any changes by clicking “Continue” when finished.

The rest of your application can also be edited and changed an unlimited number of times.

7. Carefully Review Print Preview

The Print Preview is regrettably located toward the end of the process. You must earn all your green checks before a button will appear allowing you to generate the preview.

This is where you can see how well your essay has survived the text box and if any of your information has been deleted from the application.

If information is mysteriously missing (problems have been reported in the “Activities” and the “Current Year Courses” sections) or if your essay doesn’t look right, go back and delete your previous entries and try reentering the essay or data.

If problems persist, restart your computer, check your system and change browsers if necessary. If that doesn’t work, contact the Common Application Help Desk. Hint: Print out and date your Print Preview just before submitting so that you have a hardcopy record of the document—just in case!

8. Do Not Pay Twice 

This is a known problem, and if you’ve already made the mistake of entering credit card information two times—you’re not alone and the Common App promises to arrange for refunds.

To avoid the issue, simply don’t pay twice.

Sometimes entering credit card information and receiving a receipt of payment will not uncover the “signature” page. If you are not immediately directed to sign your application, be patient. The Common App sternly warns that it may take 24 to 48 hours for a card to clear their system.

After a reasonable amount of time, return to the application and try to continue to the signature page.

Do not wait a week. After 48 hours, go to the Help Desk, as this problem sometimes requires a little hands-on attention to unravel.

9. Check for Green Checkmarks and Red X’s

You’re ready to submit your application when all of a sudden you see the following message: In order to begin the submission process, you must first have the following items completed… How do you know what’s still missing from your application?

Unfortunately, blank fields aren’t highlighted in a visually striking way, and it can be a little tedious trying to find the one final question that still needs answer.

Our suggestion?

Click on the “Common App” tab first. If any of the items to the left lack a green checkmark, select it. Then click in the first drop down box you see. Hit the “tab” key on your keyboard until a red X appears, indicating a required field you inadvertently missed.

Alternatively, just scour the screen for those tiny red asterisks, as those also indicate questions that must be answered.

Once you see six green checkmarks to the left, follow the same procedure under the “My Colleges” tab. Once every item has a green checkmark beside it, you should be free to submit your application.

10. Sign Your Application

Your application is NOT submitted until you have typed your name into the signature space.

Because of the payment problem outlined above, it may not be evident that this is the next step in the process. But it is and you must complete the process.

Please do not neglect to sign your application.

It will be obvious that this is something you have to do after you have done it the first time.

Once you have completed submission, a green check should appear.

If you are uncertain for any reason, send an email to the admissions office to make sure the application has been received

They know there are problems with the Common Application and won’t think poorly of you for asking—really.

Watch the recording of our Common App Review webinar lead by Sabrina Malone sharing tips for how your student can avoid frequently seen mistakes and submit a polished Common App.









Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.