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2019-20 Common Application Guide


The Common Application is officially open for the 2019-20 college application season, and there are several changes that high school seniors should be aware of as they embark on their college admissions journey this fall.

At Next Step, our goal is to make the college application process as stress-free and transparent as possible. This means keeping families abreast of the latest college admissions news and trends and breaking down what students need to know about the Common App each year. Here’s what students need to know about the 2019-20 Common App.

New Look
If you’ve been on the Common App website in the last month or so, you may have noticed that the website has a brand new look, with a refreshed color scheme and logo. This comes as the Common App looks to rebrand as not just an application platform but also a resource to help students better navigate the college admissions process. Here’s what the new website looks like:


Refreshed Application
In addition to the rebranded website, the Common App has also refreshed the look of the application itself. The application will not only incorporate the new color scheme, but will also be more mobile-friendly than in the past, allowing students to better complete their Common App on their smartphones. Here’s what the new Common App will look like on both desktop and mobile devices:


New Resources
As we mentioned before, part of the rebranding of the Common Application this summer was driven by the intention to be an all-encompassing resource for students applying to college – not unlike the Coalition application. The 2019-20 Common App will include a slew of new resources in order to help students better navigate the college admissions process. This includes:

  • An improved search function designed to help students better access certain college readiness resources

  • Enhanced college search and school detail pages that include access to virtual campus tours and critical application requirements in order to help students better identify the schools to which they want to apply

  • New application guides that will help first-year and transfer students navigate that application process step-by-step

  • An expanded college roadmap designed to help all types of students through the process, including community college students, active and retired military, adult students, and more


2019-20 Common App Essay Prompts
While a lot of changes have come to the Common App this year, the essay prompts for the 2019-20 Common App have remained the same. Here are the Common App essay prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Tips for the Common App
When completing your Common Application, it’s important to take your time and be thoughtful about every piece of information you’re providing to colleges. This application is, after all, your means to present yourself to your top-choice school so you want to maximize every section. Here are a few things to keep in mind while working on your Common App this fall:

  • Start ASAP! Ideally, most students will have started to fill out the Common App and worked on their personal statements in advance of the Common App launch on Aug. 1. However, that’s not the case for everyone. If you haven’t already, create your Common App account and start to fill out each section in order to get the tedious personal information out of the way. You’ll be thankful to have the bulk of this work out of the way once the school year starts this fall.

  • Be thoughtful about your personal statement. This is your chance to tell universities something new about you that can’t be found anywhere else in the application, so take your time brainstorming, drafting, and refining your personal statement. The prompts are broad, so take your time identifying the right prompt for you and ensure that your personal statement properly addresses it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your college counselor for help identifying a topic and refining your essay.


  • Strategically fill out the activities section. Extracurricular activities are about quality – not quantity. When filling out the activity section of your Common App, list your activities in order of importance to you, putting your most impactful and meaningful activities at the top of the list. If there are any activities on your list that you only participated in once, or that you did for a year or two and stopped, leave them off. Be as detailed as possible when describing your involvement in these activities. Mention any leadership positions or initiatives and how you have made an impact.


At Next Step Colllege Plan we know this is an exciting time for college-bound high school seniors eager to embark on their college admissions journey. We’re here to help with any questions or concerns that families may encounter along the way. We can help students will all aspects of the college admissions process, from creating a balanced college list all the way to ensuring that their Common App is ready for submission. Contact us today for more information on college counseling services for high school seniors.