How to Prepare for the Common App

You absolutely should take time to enjoy your summer, but if you’re a junior about to head to senior year, don’t forget about your college applications completely! You should actually complete a few steps over the coming weeks so you’re not scrambling at the last minute to get it all done. We recommend starting early, getting involved, noting your deadlines, and more. If one or more of your potential colleges accepts the Common App (over 900 schools use it for their college admissions process!), here are some tasks you can do over your summer break to have all your ducks in a row.

A high school student taking a college prep course on her laptop.

Get Involved

This is really good advice for any college application you’re going to submit – and it looks great on job applications, too! Getting involved in clubs, extracurriculars, nonprofits, and your community is an excellent way to stand out to the admissions department. Colleges and universities are looking for students who go beyond grades, beyond the basics. And taking action now can do wonders to building out your Common App.

Know Your Deadlines

The Common App comes available on August 1st. That doesn’t mean you have to get it all done by that date, but you do need to know deadlines for the Common App and the various components. You can even download the Common App mobile app to get reminders!

Application Due Date

The application deadline depends entirely on the type of system you’re applying under: Early Action, Early Decision, Early Decision II, and Regular Decision. Deadlines can also vary from school to school, even if they’re all using the Common App! Be sure to check each individual school’s application due dates so you’re not missing any.

These are a few of the more common deadlines:

  • Early Action and Early Decision: Early or mid November
  • Early Decision II and Regular Decision: January 1st

You absolutely shouldn’t wait until those deadlines to complete the Common App though! You don’t want to run into internet problems or discover you’re missing an essential piece the night before. Certain parts of the application also take time to get, like the letters of recommendation. You can’t ask for a letter from a teacher one day to be in your hand the next.

ACT or SAT Cut Off Date

Many schools still require the ACT or SAT for their applicants. And even schools where it’s “recommended,” you should still take it. The ACT or SAT could be a deciding factor in your acceptance letter, and going the extra mile will set you apart from other students.

However, you do need to take your ACT or SAT exams with plenty of time. We recommend taking the ACT or SAT in the spring of your junior year, but if you want to take it a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, when is the latest you can sit for the exams?

In order for your results to arrive in time for your application consideration, the SAT or ACT has to be taken in early December. Test dates will vary from year to year, but for the 2021-22 school year, for example, the cutoff dates were December 4th for the SAT and December 11th for the ACT.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t exactly needed for your Common App, but you should still know when it becomes available and the deadline. It comes online October 1st, and doesn’t actually close until June nearly 2 years later. So, the FAFSA that comes out this year (2022) would not be due until June 2024.

However, that doesn’t mean you should wait long. Colleges and the federal government can and will run out of money if you wait!

Gather What You Need

Do you know what the Common App requires? Getting what you need together sooner rather than later (this summer, for instance) can save you from a lot of headaches and stress. After creating an account on, you will have to enter your information such as your name, email, address, and date of birth. The application will also request:

  • Details on your education
  • Extracurricular information
  • Demographic data
  • Household information
    • Including your parents’ education and work history
  • Prospective enrollment year
  • High school transcripts
  • Letter of recommendations
    • They actually allow you to invite teachers and others to upload the letters straight to your application!
  • Essay
  • The schools you’re planning to apply to
    • Admission requirements can vary from school to school
  • Any additional information the college or university requests

Brainstorm Your Essay

The Common App does help make the college essay a little bit easier! Thanks to their prompts, you can skip at least some of the brainstorming process. The topics available change from year to year, so be sure you’re looking at the correct prompts. You might not be able to start entirely on this step until August 1st, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about it.

In the past, the Common App has asked students to write about such things as:

  • Meaningful parts of your background
  • Challenges and setbacks and how you overcame them
  • Times you’ve shown gratitude
  • Your passions
  • Or even your own idea and not based on any of the existing prompts!

To brainstorm some of these topics over the summer, start thinking about challenges you’ve faced, your passions in and outside of school, and impactful moments in your life. When the next set of Common App prompts come out, you should have a good list of things to choose from!

The Common App may not come online until August 1st, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a little bit of legwork ahead of time. Getting a move on this summer will allow you to have less stressful fall and winter seasons!

Not quite sure what schools you’ll be applying to yet or aren’t sure if they require the Common App? Our College Match tool can help you with your college search and help you find the best options that fit you, your goals, and your accomplishments.