What To Do If You’re Having Trouble With The Common App

High school students apply to college
As Seniors around the world struggle to navigate the new (and currently broken) 2013 Common App 4, the Common App staff are hard at work struggling to repair all of the bugs in the prematurely released software. Meanwhile, the colleges have remained silent on whether any deadlines will be extended when students may not be able to actually submit on time, through no fault of the students.
For you students out there trying to make those deadlines, I strongly suggest you apply at least two weeks prior to any deadline because the Common App only seems to be working seamlessly for about one third of applicants, so the rest of you need to be ready to encounter very odd problems and submit Help tickets to the Help desk.

Alternatives to the Common App:
1.  When your college offers their own application on their wesbite, use it.
2.  When your college sends you a “Priority App” through email, use it.
3.  Check the Universal College Application to see if your colleges accept that. Then use it.
These options will avoid pitfalls that could cause your application to be late.
In the meantime, here are some work-arounds for students dealing with essays, activities, payments and submissions on the quasi-functioning Common App:

How to format your essay on the (currently broken) Common App (CA4):

1.  Format the essay in Word with no indents, single spaced, and two hard returns between paragraphs). 

2.  Copy and paste the essay into a brand new Word document.

3.  Copy and paste that into the essay box in the CA.
4.  Do not touch it – do not make any corrections where a sentence ends with one word on a new line and then the new sentence continued on the next line.  Leave it just as it is.
5.  Then print preview and the essay should look perfect.

How to enter and “rank” activities on the (currently broken) Common App (CA4):

1. On your resume, circle your top ten activities, awards, etc.  You can only list ten, so circle those you are most proud of, and do try to get some diversity in there (so not all sports, etc).
2.  Then enter the data on each activity into the Common App. You have two spaces for entering text, so put the title of the activity where it seems most logical (since they don’t ask for it!).

To edit the order of activities, follow these steps very carefully:
3.  Hit “edit” when you are on the activity you wish to move
4.  Move the activity up or down
5.  When the activity is in the right place hit “Continue” to save it before moving on to move another activity.

Other Common Questions:

Q. What if the Common App asks me to pay twice?
A. Don’t do it.  The payments are delayed.  It will take your money two or three times.  You probably have paid, so check back in 24-48 hours to see if the CA is updated.

Q. What if I can’t see my print preview on the Common App because it’s not loading?
A. Wait.  It can take 5 minutes or more.  Go do some homework or found a new charity. It is worth seeing, though, to be sure your essay wasn’t completely deleted or turned into WingDings font, so be patient.

Q.  What if I only want to report some of my test scores on the Common App?
A. Your colleges have the right to require all of your test scores.  The Common App does not, so you report what you want to report and obey what each college asks when you send them scores from the testing agency.

Q. What if my school doesn’t do class rank but the Common App is requiring it?
A.  Submit a Help ticket to the Common App, all 2 million of you.  This should also not be required because it only helps a tiny handful of kids in your school, the kids in the top 10%, and it literally hurts everyone else.  This should not be required, especially since your guidance counselor reports it anyway (if your school does). Submit a Help ticket.
Q. What do I do about the FERPA page on the Common App?
A.  I, and most counselors I know, counsel kids to waive their rights to read the letter.  This shows that you have faith in the person writing the letter and that you are not a person who likes to sue people when things don’t go your way. Waive your rights.

Q. I submitted my payment, am I done?
A.  You MUST sign the application on the Signature page.  Don’t forget.  It’s not made glaringly obvious that you need to do this step, but the app is not finished or submitted until you submit the signature page.

Q. On my print preview some of my Activities or Current Year Courses are missing.  What do I do?
A.  Go back to those pages and re-enter the data that was missing.  Try that.  Then check Print Preview again.  (You can only see the Print Preview when you click “Start Submission”, which is not good or comforting, but is the only way.)  If that didn’t fix the problem, try using Firefox or Chrome, and check the “System Requirements” as stated in the tiny print on the Common App website.

Hang in there, kids!  We’ll make it.  And remember that this process all works out for every student, every time.  You will end up where you are meant to be.

Create your free CollegeMapper account to get more personalized help with the Common App!

3 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for your instructions on how to format the essay on the Common App. My daughter has been struggling with trying to get paragraph breaks into her essay for hours. I started wondering if the fix was a joke…it just sounds so absurd that you would have to jump through these hoops…but it worked absolutely perfectly. This is one happy mom who really appreciates your help!!!

    1. Hi! Could you post this great question in the CollegeMapper Forum? I’m happy to answer them there, so other kids can search for answers. Best, Susanna

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