common app

Update: Read the latest tips for the 2017-18 Common App.

When the Common App went live on July 31, 2015 at approximately 7:40pm ET, I was ready. I pounced on the login page, eagerly typing in a username and password that would usher me to the new and improved 2015 Common App. Although I was already familiar with the planned updates to this year’s Common App, I wanted to see them in action. Would the new print preview feature alleviate much of the stress applicants faced last year? Would the new “Writing Requirements” section become the answer to all of our organizational dreams? Over the next few weeks, please join us as we deconstruct the 2015 Common Application, answering many of applicants’ frequently asked questions about completing their college applications. Up first: setting up your Common Application account and competing the Profile and Family pages.

Setting up your Common Application Account

Q: Does it matter what email address I use for my Common App login?

A: It’s often a good idea to set up a dedicated “college-only” email address for all things related to the college application process. Many students don’t check their regular email accounts frequently (either because of too much spam or simply because the medium has become a bit outdated), so why not create a new email account that solely for college? Choose a professional, generic address (hotstuff98 isn’t a wise choice), and be sure to select a password that you feel comfortable sharing with your parents or guidance counselor. (If a third-party wants to proof your application, you wouldn’t want to divulge your absolute top-secret password, would you?) Note: For students whose high schools use Naviance to submit application forms such as transcripts and letters of recommendation, be sure to use the same email address for the Common App that you’re already using for Naviance. You’ll need to link these two platforms later on, and you’ll need the same email address/username to do that.

Q: Should I allow colleges to communicate with me before I submit my application?

colleges common app

A: Unless you want to receive even more brochures and emails encouraging you to apply to the colleges on your list, check “no” here. By checking “no,” the schools on your “My Colleges” list will still have access to your basic biographical information (including name, city, state, academic interest, and high school name), but only by checking “yes” will you be authorizing those colleges to connect with you via your home address, cell phone, or email.

Profile Page

Q: Should I enter an alternate address on the “Address” tab?

address common app

A: This question generally only applies to students who attend boarding school. If you live away from home and you’d like your colleges to send you mail to your boarding school address, type in your school name and address under “Alternate mailing address.” Most students would then select an end date that’s approximately one to two weeks before classes are over and students plan to move back home for the summer.

Q: Should I indicate my religious preferences and racial/ethnic background?

languages common app

A: All of the questions on the “Demographics” page are optional, and any student who doesn’t feel comfortable completing these questions should feel free to leave some (or all) of them blank. That said, if you do belong to a particular religious affiliation, or if you have strong ties to your racial or ethnic background, go ahead and indicate them! There has been much discussion lately about racial preferences in college admissions, and whether or not students from certain minority backgrounds are at an advantage (or disadvantage). But whether you’re a white male from Long Island or an Asian female from California, you are who you are. There’s no point in trying to conceal your identity.

Q: I study Spanish in high school. Should I include Spanish as one of the languages I’m proficient in?

common app languages

A: Let’s consider the definition of “proficient.” According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, proficient means, “Having or marked by an advanced degree of competence, as in an art. An expert.” So… think about your own foreign language skills for a moment. Do you have an advanced ability to speak, write, or read Spanish? Would your Spanish teacher say the same? If not, stick with English as your sole language. Colleges will see that you study Spanish (or any other foreign language) when they evaluate your transcript. This section is really just intended for students who are fluent (or nearly fluent) in a second or third language.

Family Page

Q: What should I do if my parent’s occupation isn’t listed?

A: My own mother was a middle school librarian. I tried typing in “librarian,” but nothing popped up. I then tried “teacher,” since those two professions are closely related. The three resulting options were “college teacher,” “teacher or administrator (elementary),” and “teacher or administrator (secondary).” So I opted for the middle selection. If I wanted to make sure that colleges knew my mother was a librarian, or a “school library media specialist” to be exact, I could use the “Other” option and type in her precise position on the “Other Occupation Details” line. Either way, bear in mind that colleges are just trying to gain a broader sense of who you are and where you come from. Choose the occupation that most closely aligns with your parents’ professions, even if it’s not a perfect match.

Q: What if my parent didn’t attend college, or began college but didn’t finish his degree?

parent education common app

A: If your parent graduated from high school but never took classes at a two- or four-year college, select “Graduated from high/secondary school (or its equivalent)” under “Education Level.” If your parent began taking classes at an institution of higher education but did not graduate, choose “Some college/university.” Then, under “Number of degrees your parent received from this college,” select “No degree.”

Q: How do I indicate that my parent received two degrees (undergraduate and graduate) from two different schools?

A: Under “Education Level,” select “Graduate School,” and then “2” for the “Total number of institutions attended.” You will then be able to look up each school individually and mark down the number of degrees your parent received at each school (usually “1”), as well as the degree received (“Bachelors (BA, BS)” or “Law (JD, LLM),” for example).

Q: Why does a college care about my siblings? Should I list step- or half-siblings?

A: In addition to providing colleges with additional context on an applicant’s family life (as in, “Wow, 10 siblings!”), colleges also find it helpful to know if a sibling is currently attending or did attend their particular school. In some instances, that information could be the extra boost need in committee to help push that student into the admit pile. On the other hand, denied students of siblings (or alumni parents) might receive a “nicer” deny letter that acknowledges how disappointing the news must be given their family connection to the college.

Stay tuned for Part II of our insider’s look at the 2015 Common Application. In our next blog we’ll be tackling the Education, Testing, and Activities pages. Can’t wait? Feel free to post your question below, and one of our Common App experts will be happy to answer it!

Check out Elyse’s other Common App articles:

Listen to Elyse’s segments on the 2015-16 Common App on Getting In: A College Coach Conversation:



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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.