Mistakes to Avoid on the Common App

Common App Mistakes

Mistakes to Avoid on the Common App

Published December 10, 2020 | Last Updated July 19th, 2023 at 09:09 am

Common App Mistakes

The Common Application is accepted by more than 1,000 schools. It enables students to apply to multiple colleges and universities at once, without having to repeat information on each application.

As helpful as the application is, admissions counselors say students often make Common App mistakes when filling it out—mistakes that could be avoided with a little research.  

With that in mind, here are some tips for applying to schools using the Common App so you can avoid the I wish I had known that!” feeling later.

Common App Deadlines

The Common App goes live on August 1 for the upcoming admissions season. The Early Decision and Early Action deadlines for most colleges and universities are typically November 1 or 15.

The Regular Decision deadline is usually January 1. But be sure to check each college and university your child is applying to for specific deadlines.

This information can be found on college websites or under the university name when your student adds the school to their Common Application to begin applying. 

Common Mistakes in the Activities Section

Listing Unclear Activities

The goal of the Activities section is for admissions officers to gain a clear picture of your child’s involvement. 

With the limited characters you’re given to describe extracurricular activities, it’s important that your child describe those activities in the most concise way possible. So encourage them to use short descriptions.

Listing Activities in the Wrong Order

There are ten spots to list extracurricular activities on the Common App list. Activities should be organized from most to least important.

This will help when admissions counselors are skimming the activities list. They’ll know which activities are most important to your child based on what’s ordered first, and spend more time reviewing this information than smaller commitments toward the bottom of their list.

Things to consider when ordering: recognition and honors, time commitments, and leadership positions. 

Common App Resume Mistakes

Not Taking Advantage of the Resume

Not all schools accept resumes as part of the Common App. But for the majority of schools that do, it’s a great way to show how your student has gotten involved in activities that may not have been included or fully described on the activities list.

It’s also an opportunity for your child to discuss their role in clubs or on teams and how that role has changed over the years. 

For colleges that have gone test-optional, resumes have become more valuable as another source for admissions officers to use in getting to know your student.

According to Nancy Griesemer, Founder of College Explorations, “a thoughtfully constructed resume will also ‘show’ the kinds of non-quantifiable character traits colleges are increasingly anxious to capture and evaluate in the admissions process.”

Common App Essay Mistakes

Writing Generic Essays

Your student shouldn’t be writing a generic essay that could be about any high school student. Instead, they should tell personal stories, that are not explained in the activities list, to create a more unique personal statement.

Given the multitude of essays admissions officers have to read, it’s important to take every opportunity to stand out. 

Other Common App Mistakes

Repeating Information

Space is precious on the Common Application.

Admissions officers only have a short amount of time to read your child’s application. So while it’s important for your child to show why they are unique in different sections of the application, they should be careful not to repeat the same information. 

Not Answering Supplementals

Even when a school indicates that a supplemental essay is optional, write it anyway.

Not doing so might indicate to admissions officers that your student is not seriously considering their university. It’s a wasted opportunity for your child to not write the essay and share more about themself. 

Not Proofreading and Checking for Spelling Errors

Your child should read over the application—and review the entire document—before submitting. It can also help to have someone else proofread the application for spelling errors they might have missed. 

Not Securing All Third-Party Documents

Double-check that all documents are properly submitted, including third-party documents such as test scores, school profiles, and more.

If the document isn’t on the Common Application but is still needed, your child should check the individual college or university website to see if all elements of the application have been turned in. 

Using Inappropriate Email Address

Verify that the provided email address is current, and remind your student to check it frequently for correspondence.

Your child should consider creating a new email address specifically for college admissions, especially if theirs is too cutesy, risque, or could be deemed inappropriate.

When in doubt, suggest that your child choose an email address with their first and last name, such as jane_doe@domain or j.doe@domain.  

Not Clicking Submit and/or Missing Deadlines

Once your student has reviewed and submitted the application, they should verify that it was sent properly to each school by the deadline. Leave enough time to ensure that any glitches in the Common Application did not affect the submission.

Always check for email confirmation. You may also see virtual confetti pop up on the screen when your child’s application has officially been received.

If you read through this guide and learned your child didn’t make any of these common (Common App) mistakes, you should feel confident that they’re ahead of the game.

And don’t worry if they did make a few errors. Rest assured, we have tips to help you problem solve.

Watch our Facebook Live discussion about Common App mistakes below:


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Parents Share the Worst Parts of the College Admissions Process

How to Motivate Juniors to Start the College Process

How to Apply to College: A Comprehensive Guide




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