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How To Format A Common Application Essay

Should you type your essay directly into the online common application or should you use a word processing tool? Answering this question is your first step in formatting your essay.

Either option is possible, but at Studential we recommend using the word processing tool as it allows you to easily plan, check and correct your essay while offline.

In any word processing tool you will be able to format your essay. For example headings using bold, UPPERCASE, italics or underline whichever is your preference (ours is Bold).

You will be able to create paragraphs and check not only spellings and grammar, but also word counts. If you’re struggling for a word, most word processing tools such as Microsoft Word (for Windows Users) or Pages (for Macs) provide thesauruses, synonyms etc. These are really useful and can spark ideas.

A very important fact is being able to check your word count (remember it is 250 to 650 words for your essay) and continue to recheck and refine it, until it is within this very strict word count.

If you’re asking family and friends to proof read and check your essay before you submit it, you’ll also be able to set ‘track changes’ on the document so you can accept or reject their suggestions.

Once you’ve formatted it as you want it, the next stage is to cut and paste your essay into the correct field in the online Common Application. Italics, bold and underline formatting from your word processing version should still be saved when you cut and paste.

However occasionally when you cut and paste there may be formatting issues after you’ve pasted it. Don’t assume it’s all pasted correctly. Recheck it and reformat where you have to.

For example, has the last line pasted in ok?  Do you have any line breaks or spaces that weren’t meant to be there? Are there capitals or lowercases which are incorrect? Is all the punctuation the same as the original?

The online application essay field will also create block formatting of paragraphs and new paragraphs will not be indented. Instead there will be one line of space between each paragraph. This is normal for all online common applications and cannot be changed.

Different browsers e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome may paste slightly differently, so if you struggle first time, try re-loading the online application using a different browser and then cut and paste again.

Alternatively if this still doesn’t work, it’s about trying a different word processing tool.

If you think you’re within the word count but it’s saying you’re not or your paragraphs are formatting incorrectly after you’ve cut and pasted them; the best idea is to cut and paste into Notepad (for windows users) or TextEdit (for Macs).

Then from here cut and paste into the essay text box. This is because Notepad and TextEdit strip out all the formatting and just paste plain text. This may mean you need to create your paragraphs again but all the weird and wonderful formatting issues will most likely disappear.

Once your essay is uploaded you can preview the page, once you’ve saved your changes and pressed continue.

To double check the Common Application across all sections including your essay, you’ll need to fully complete every field and requirement and start the submission process. At this time you’ll have the option to save a pdf version to your computer.

Don’t worry if you suddenly realize you’ve missed something. Since 2015/16 applications, the online system lets you make unlimited edits after you’ve submitted your first application.

Find out more about formatting your Common App essay in our Common App Essay Structure section.

 

Confused on How to Format Your
Common Application Essay?

Here are 9 Hot Tips

The 2017-18 Common Application opened for business earlier this week (August. 1). Chances are you will soon need to know how to format your common application essay.

If you are on the ball, you might be ready to apply to specific colleges and universities and need to submit your core Common Application essay, as well as other shorter essays required by certain schools (often called Supplemental Essays).

Or you are still getting ready or working on writing them, but will need to know how to format your common application essay(s) in upcoming weeks or months.

The first step is to get an account with The Common Application.

Then figure out your list of colleges you will be applying to, and start searching the site for additional shorter essays they want you to write.

Under each college or university, you will see a tab called Writing Requirements. You can find these additional short essays either under the College Questions or the Writing Supplements.

Every school is different, so really root around all the tabs and drop-down options. For example, some schools will ask you to write about an extracurricular activity (in 150 words or so) under the College Questions section, under one of the drop down tabs, such the Activities or Essay Questions tab.

Confusing, yes. But it will make more sense once you get logged on and explore the site.

RELATED: 10 Hot Tips to Power your Supplemental Essays

I like to advise my students to collect all the supplemental essays (by prompt and word count) in one place (such as a Word or Google doc file). That way they know what they will need to write about at the start, and also be able to see which ones are the same or similar. (For example, many schools have supplemental essays about “Why are you a fit?” or writing about your intended major.)

RELATED: Check out this short Slideshare to Learn How to Write Short Essays. 

Of course, the most important essay you will write is the core Common Application essay, although some schools do not require it—and you can determine which ones do as you read through the application site. (Even if you only have one of your target schools that requires the main Common App essays, you will need to write one–and learn how to format your common application essay.)

Nine Hot Tips to Format Your Common Application Essay

If you do need to submit a core Common App essay (you pick from one of 7 prompts; 250-650 words), here are some tips on how to format your common application essay:

  1. Compose your draft in either a Word file or Google docs. Do not craft it directly in the Common Application text box (You could lose your work)! If you use Word or Google docs, you can use their word count and, most importantly, the spell check feature. The Common App now allows you to upload Google docs directly from Google Drive. (Hint: If you want to use this feature, you might want to get a Gmail account that you use exclusively for these essays.) You can also copy and paste your Word or Google doc directly into the Common App text box.
  2. The Common Application essay text box does not allow tabbing. So make your paragraphs with block formatting (have a space in between each paragraph instead of an indentation.) You can format this way in your Word or Google doc, but make sure it translates after you either upload your Google doc, or copy and paste from the Word or Google doc.
  3. The Common Application essay text box only has formatting for Bold, Underline and Italics. I would format your essay along MLA guidelines (using italics for things like book titles, foreign words, those types of copyediting rules.), and then make sure they translate or carry over after you upload or copy and paste. If you lose the italics, use the Common App italics formatting to add them inside the text box. I see no reason to use either Bold or Underlining in your essays. Avoid gimmicky formatting, such as ALL CAPS, emojis or #hashtags.
  4. Avoid titles. Even though I think a snappy title can enhance an essay, I see no way to format it at the top of the Common App essay that would center it, and think it could be more of a distraction. If you really love your title, feel free to give it a try, but I think it will only stick on the far left of the first line. (If you go for it that way, maybe put it in Bold to make it clear it’s a title.)
  5. Do NOT include the prompt at the top of your essay. That only eats up precious words. With your Common App essay, you simply check the box that your essay lines up with the best.
  6. Supplemental (shorter) essays have similar formatting options. Use the same rules as above for these. Some do not provide a text box and require you to upload from Google docs or attach a Word file (converting it to a PDF.)
  7. Double check word counts. The Common App text box and text boxes for the supplemental essays show the minimum and maximum word counts, which is very helpful. After you copy and paste an essay, always scroll through it to make sure everything copies (and your formatting carried over) and make sure it’s within the word count requirement shown under the box.
  8. You can go back and make edits after you have submitted your essays. Even after you submit, go back and review to make sure it’s exactly how you wanted it.
  9. General rules for formatting drafts in Word or Google docs: Use a common font (Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria…), write in 12 pt font, double space.

I hope this helps you format your Common Application essay, and not sweat it.

If you are still working on finding a hot topic for your essay, read my Five Top Tips on Finding Topics.

If you have more questions on how to format your common application essay, let me know in the Comments box below. If I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to find a credible source to answer you.

Good luck!

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