frustrated student applying to college online

The much heralded Common App V.4 (CA4) went into effect early last month. In the months leading up to the release of the new application, we wrote about some of the changes and offered a webinar to go over the new format (the webinar is available On Demand in our Webinar Catalog).

Now, several weeks into the new application, it’s apparent that the new Common App has a few glitches. Some college counselors have bemoaned these glitches as proof of a broken system, but it’s hardly surprising that a technological overhaul of this magnitude isn’t quite perfect. Until the folks over at Common App figure out how to fix the glitches, it’s up to students to figure out how to deal with them.

Here is a rundown of some of the most commonly noticed glitches and how to avoid them:

Common App 4.0 appears to have personal issues with certain browsers. Many Mac users have noticed that the new Common App doesn’t seem to like Safari. If you run into tech glitches, try using Mozilla or Internet Explorer.

My entire application got deleted! We’ve all run into a situation in which we’ve spent many frustrating minutes completing an online form only to have that form crash and lose everything. The new Common App seems fairly prone to this problem. The solution: Save CONSTANTLY!

I participated in 843 clubs, teams, and activities, but the Common App will only let me list 10! Yes, the new Common App only provides space for you to list and describe ten of your activities. Many students will be fine with this. Others will not. If you’re one of those students who participated in many different activities, you will have to narrow your list down to the top ten. Focus on activities in which you held a leadership position, participated for several years, or were particularly passionate about. These ten activities will be more than enough to demonstrate your interests and involvement to your potential colleges!

I breezed right through the application and got green checks in every section. I’m done, right? NOOOOO! One of the most common complaints about the new platform is that the Common App gives you a green check for any section you’ve looked at, not necessarily only for sections you’ve completed. It’s up to you to go back and double (and triple) check that each and every section is 100% complete. Don’t rely on Common App’s little green checks.

The colleges I’m applying for don’t have any supplemental essays – awesome! Nope! While it’s true that some member schools don’t require a supplemental writing section, many schools – especially top-rated schools – do. Those supplements don’t appear in your application until you’ve completed ALL college-specific questions, including (where applicable) which school you are applying for within a given college or university. Undecided isn’t an option, so if you want to apply to, say, Cornell, and you aren’t sure whether you want to attend the College of Arts and Sciences or the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, you’ll have to apply to both. And until you select one of the undergraduate schools, none of the writing supplements will appear. And if you don’t complete the required writing supplements, your submitted application will be tossed out for being incomplete.

Aren’t there essays for honors programs and scholarships? I don’t see any… Many schools also have writing supplements for specific programs or scholarships, but these also won’t appear until you actually click the box indicating that you want to apply for these things.

My essay looks terrible when I paste it into that essay box. Yes, this will happen. The new Common App actually counts how many words are in your essay. The old one just put you on the honor system. For whatever reason, it appears that the technology behind the new Common App can’t accurately count words if there are spaces and/or indentations between your paragraphs. So, yeah, your essay isn’t going to look well formatted when you submit your application. But then, neither will anyone else’s, so don’t stress too much. Microsoft Word formatting seems to do the worst with the new Common App, so consider copy/pasting your essay into Notepad and fixing the formatting issues there before pasting the essay into the Common App.


Look at the print preview of your application before you submit it. Look at it two or three times. Go through it with a fine toothed comb. Make sure you:

  • Filled out every question in every section
  • Fix any spelling, grammar, or usage mistakes
  • Fix any typos
  • Thoroughly edit your essays
  • Filled out every question in every section (this one’s important enough to mention twice)

For more help with college apps, check out these recent posts: