Common Application FAQs

By The Dunbar Team


The 2023-2024 Common App is officially OPEN!

The Common Application is now accepted by over 1000 colleges and was designed to streamline the college admissions process. However, not all colleges accept the Common Application (particularly some public universities) and many of those that do accept it also have application supplements that may contain additional essay requirements (a typical prompt being “Why are you interested in attending our college?”).

We find the Common Application more straightforward than the Coalition for College application, another application platform accepted by 150+ colleges, so we recommend using it whenever possible.

We have compiled information addressing some of the most common questions our students have asked when filling out their Common Applications; should this hand-out not address your questions, start with the Instructions and Help box to the right on your application or go to the Student Solution Center here. The help tips will change with each page and contain valuable information for the questions on that page. From October through January, there will also be an Applicant Chat feature.

If the solutions you find do not answer your question, you can submit it online here. Common App will generally respond within 24 hours; don’t forget to check your spam filter if you are awaiting a response from them!, and you should add this address to your contacts to prevent their response becoming trapped in a spam filter. There is no telephone support desk for the Common Application.

Here are some basics:

• Go to and create an account for yourself as a first year applicant (unless you are a transfer student). Your username will be your email address. Follow the instructions to create a password and start filling out the application.

• Icons on the Dashboard page – which becomes your landing page once you have added some colleges to your account – provide the status of your progress by college. Green check marks signify that an application has been submitted, while a purple pencil indicate an application that is still in progress or ready for submission.

• If you choose to allow your colleges to contact you by email, which you can do when creating your account, be sure to check your email regularly and read those sent to you by colleges on your list and respond if the email seems to require a response. If you do not respond, the college may assume that your interest in them is not meaningful, and that assumption may work against you if you choose to apply.

• After you have added your colleges, you can answer questions specific to each college in its supplement. Your responses may trigger additional essays, so it is wise to fill out these questions early!

These supplements are also where you’ll be able to indicate if you wish to submit an arts supplement or portfolio, if they offer the option.

Not every application requirement is outlined in the Common Application. For example, some colleges will require you fill out a self-reported academic record through SRAR and Dartmouth asks for a Peer Recommendation. Double-check your colleges’ application requirements on their websites!

If you have a question that cannot be answered quickly by reading through our notes or the Common Application website, reach out to the Student Solution Center. It is entirely possible to lose hours trying to find a solution that either doesn’t exist or that would take someone at the Common Application five minutes to answer once they get to your email. Get your question in the queue before wasting too much time on your own, and then keep trying to find a solution, if you want.

• When listing your Activities, list the ones that are the most important to you at the top; you can reorder them when you are done. You have only 50 characters, including spaces, for the “Position/Leadership” description and 150 characters, including spaces, to describe what you accomplished and any recognition you received, so use your words judiciously. You may find it helpful to draft these Activity descriptions in a word processing program where you can count the characters and then copy and paste them into your Common Application. You can list as many as ten activities but do not feel obligated to do so.

• Draft your essay responses in a word processing program and then copy and paste them into the application. You can preview how the formatting looks at any point using the “Preview” button on the upper right-hand corner.

Many colleges have added new supplementary essays asking students to share how their backgrounds or life experiences have shaped them or how they will contribute to a diverse and inclusive campus community in response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding affirmative action. And as other colleges continue to consider how they intend to tweak their own supplements, many supplements will not be available until September 1.

Additional Information – The Additional Information section is NOT meant to be used as a place to add an additional essay of your choosing. It is an excellent place for information that doesn’t fit elsewhere – additional test scores or awards of consequence, additional information about an activity that doesn’t fit easily in the Activities section (often helpful for students with engineering or business projects experience), or details about a circumstance that has had bearing on your academic performance (an illness, learning difference, or family situation).

The Additional Information section also provides a space where students may address the impact of the coronavirus on them and their families:
“Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. For more information, check out our COVID-19 FAQ.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic?*”

The response is limited to 250 words and this question is accompanied by a more detailed FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.

Click on the link below to read the Dunbar Common Application FAQs; we hope you find this resource useful. 

Common Application FAQs 2023

Good luck, and as always, we’re here to help in any way we can!