Application guide for first-year students

Get tips and best practices to give yourself the best chance at success.

Students working around a table with laptops and books

Application guide for first-year students

Get tips and best practices to give yourself the best chance at success.

Filling out your application takes time.

And if you have to keep interrupting your progress to find information, like a certificate for a continuing education course or the address of your last internship, it can take even longer. Get a head start by collecting this information before you begin.

A copy of your high school transcript

In the Education section you will enter your high school grades and current courses. Some colleges also need you to self report your high school transcript. You can check out your Courses & Grades section to learn more.

A list of your activities, work, and family responsibilities

You can share your interests and who you are outside of the classroom in the activities section. You can share information about things like work, hobbies, clubs, and community engagement. And don't forget, family responsibilities can be important to share as well. This is the place to show colleges what makes you unique!

Test scores and dates from your college entrance exams (SATs, ACTs, etc.)

You may self-report scores for any standardized tests in the Testing section. Every college has different testing requirements. Some colleges will always need your test scores. Other colleges may be flexible or have a test optional policy. Be sure to check the Testing policy of the colleges on your list.

Parent/Legal guardian information

Many colleges collect this information in the Family section for demographic purposes. We will ask for your parents occupation, employment status, and education level. If applicable, we will also ask which college(s) they attended and how many degrees they have earned.

Academic honors and achievements

The Activities section isn't the only place to show your passion and where you excel! You will also have the chance to share any academic honors or achievements from high school.

Creating a Common App account is easy and should only take a few minutes.

You can create a Common App account even if you don’t plan on applying for another few months or another few years. You can answer questions in the Common App tab and build a college list at any time.

  • Create your account and choose your student type
    • If you haven’t yet attended college, select “first-year student”
    • If you have college credits from dual enrollment high school courses, you should still select “first-year student” 
    • If you have already attended 1 or more colleges after graduating high school, select “transfer student”. We also have a separate transfer student guide to help you out. 
  • Create new login credentials. Colleges may need to get in touch with you during the application process, so be mindful of which email address you choose. Sometimes your high school address may filter out these emails, so consider using a personal email address. When choosing an email address, be sure to use one that:
    • You check regularly
    • Does not use inappropriate language 
    • You will have access to after you graduate from high school 
  • Complete your registration information
    • We will need some basic information about you like your name, home address, phone number, and date of birth.
    • Be sure to use your legal name as it appears on official school documents and standardized tests. This will make sure colleges can match documents to the correct person.
    • At the end, you will adjust your communication preferences and accept the Common App privacy policy.
  • Select "create account" and you’re done!

Account rollover

Common App accounts can roll over from year to year!

With account rollover, you can start exploring Common App and save answers to questions in the Common App tab at any time.

Once you’ve created your account and explored the colleges that accept the Common App, you're ready to start adding colleges.


The College Search tab is where you will search for and add the colleges you want to apply to. If you have a school in mind you can search by name. If you want to keep exploring, you can use the more filters button. Some filters include:

  • State or country
  • Distance from a zip code
  • Enrollment term
  • Application deadline
  • Application fees*
  • Writing requirements
  • Standardized testing policy
  • Recommendation requirement

Adding a college is easy! You may add a college using the add button in the search results list. You can also select a college and add them using the "Add to My Colleges" button from their info screen.

Once you've added colleges, you can see them on your Dashboard and in your My Colleges tab. Keep in mind you may only add up to 20 colleges. You may adjust your list of colleges at any time. Once you've submitted, you will not be able to remove those schools from your My Colleges list.

* While some colleges may charge an application fee, others have no fee to apply. And, many will offer fee waivers under certain circumstances, including financial need, veteran status, and more. 

Fee Waiver

A request to the college to remove the application fee. Using either the Common App fee waiver, which your counselor must confirm, or a college-specific fee waiver, you will not be required to pay the fee to submit your application.


Coed is a term used to describe a college or university that offers the integrated education of male and female students in same environment.

All colleges need things like official school forms. Many colleges will also ask for letters of recommendation.

Counselors, teachers, and recommenders will submit these kinds of forms on your behalf. Here are the types of recommenders you can invite in the Common App.



Counselors share their perspective using the context of the entire graduating class. They also submit the School Report and transcripts.


Parents will only need to submit a form if you apply using a college's early decision deadline. They will fill out part of your early decision agreement.


Teachers give a firsthand account of your intellectual curiosity and creative thought.

Other Recommenders

Other recommenders are usually non academic recommenders like coaches, employers, and peers. They give insight into your interests and activities outside of the classroom.


Advisors do not submit any forms. They track and check in on your application progress.

Every college gets to choose their own recommendation requirements. You can find more details on each college's "College Information" page.

If you're planning to apply this school year, you can start inviting recommenders. If you don't plan on applying until next school year or later, skip this step for now.

How to invite and assign recommenders: 

  1. From the My Colleges tab select a college and open their "Recommenders and FERPA" section.

  2. If you have not done so already, you will need to complete the FERPA Release Authorization.

  3. Invite recommenders using the invite button from each section. You may also use the "Invite Recommenders" button at the top.

  4. Select the type of invitation you would like to send. For each invitation you will need information like their name and email address.

  5. After you add a recommender, you can view their info using the Manage Recommenders button.

  6. Note that teachers, parents, and other recommenders will not receive an email invitation until you assign them to a college. To assign these recommenders, go to their section within this screen. Select their name from the dropdown and use the assign button.

  7. If your high school uses Naviance or another partner software, you will not invite your counselor or teachers here. There will be instructional text on this page explaining what to do next. You will still add other recommenders and advisors using the steps above.

In general, each college has their own recommendation requirements. For example, one college may need two teacher recommendations. Some colleges may not want any teacher recommendations. Colleges can also determine what kinds of other recommenders they want. Some may allow for any recommender type, whereas others only allow an employer recommendation.

It's important to stay organized as you work on your applications.

Each college needs you to complete common questions and add counselor. Beyond that their applications vary. Each college can determine their unique requirements for:

  • Deadlines
  • Application Fees
  • Personal Essay
  • Courses & Grades
  • Test Policy
  • Portfolio
  • Writing Supplements
  • Recommendations

Here are some places where you can find each college's specific requirements:

Explore Colleges

Each college's Explore Colleges profile provides lots of information about the college. You can find details on application information, campus culture, scheduling visits, and more.

My Colleges

In the My Colleges or College Search tab, you can learn more using a school's college information page. Here you can see requirements for testing, writing, deadlines, and more.

Requirements Grid

The requirements grid is a comprehensive PDF that lists all the colleges that use the Common App and their requirements. You can also find the grid within the application.

Writing Requirements by College

We maintain a list of all Common App colleges and their essay prompts. This resource will help as you begin planning your essays. For more help on planning essays, check out our essay planning worksheet.

Account rollover

You can save answers to Common App tab questions year over year. So you can get started on things like your personal essay or the activities section at any time.

Responses to questions in your My Colleges do not stay year over year. Only get started on things like college-specific questions, writing supplements, or portfolios if you intend to apply this school year. For more info, check out our account rollover FAQ.

Sometimes writings essays can feel like the biggest part of your application. With a little bit of planning, organizing, and drafting, we can help you make this task more manageable.

As you work on your applications you can find essays or short answer questions in three sections:

Common App Personal Essay

Colleges can either make the personal essay optional or required. In the writing section of your Common App tab, you will see a table that lists each college's requirements.

College-specific questions

Many colleges include short answer questions or essay prompts within this section. You can find specific information about each college's individual writing prompts here.

Writing supplements

Some colleges use a separate writing supplement. Not all colleges have a writing supplement. Some colleges only request this supplement based on how you answer other questions. You can find more information about writing supplements on the Dashboard or your My Colleges tab.

Counselor tip

Tools like Google Drive can be very helpful when planning or writing essays. When you’re ready to apply, you can upload the text of your essay(s) using the Google Drive icon in any of Common App’s writing questions.

Use our essay best practices FAQ for more help.

Submission is a three-step process:
1) Reviewing your application.
2) Paying the application fee (if applicable).
3) Submitting your application.

Need help? Contact our Solutions Center.

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