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.
For an even more recent update on this news, see our Paragraphs and Print Preview post, updated on Nov 7, 2013!
When the 2013-2014 Common Application was initially released, we were warned that the essay section would bear some new restrictions. The “Choose Your Own Topic” essay would be gone. Students would be held to a tightly enforced word count maximum of 650. Document attachments would no longer be accepted, forcing students to work within a text box that supported limited formatting including only bolding, italicizing, underlining and, strangely, the use of just one paragraph break.
Very early on, the complaints via internet message boards and application help centers revealed the folly in this one break paragraph plan. We can assure you, over the decade in which we have been helping students with their college admissions essays, we have never seen a thoughtful, well-structured, 650-word entrance essay that limited itself to two paragraphs. The Common App has since claimed they never meant to implement a one paragraph break rule, pointing out a formatting function that allowed students to use single-return paragraphs; a feature that lent applicants the ability to submit awkwardly formatted essays, devoid of tabs and line space breaks. Like this:
Where ignorance lurks, so too do the frontiers of discovery and imagination. There can be no thought of finishing for ‘aiming for the stars.’ Both figuratively and literally, it is a task to occupy the generations. And no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.
Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10.
Science cuts two ways, of course; its products can be used for both good and evil. But there’s no turning back from science. The early warnings about technological dangers also come from science.The regret on our side is, they used to say years ago, we are reading about you in science class. Now they say, we are reading about you in history class.
Can you find the paragraph breaks without breaking into a migraine? Neither can the admissions essay readers.
This morning, to the delight of frustrated students and college essay advisors everywhere, testing of the Common Application revealed a new development. Real paragraphs! Separated by actual line spaces!
Achieving this new format and confirming that paragraph breaks make it to the final phase of your application is not completely intuitive. After pasting an essay into the Common App essay text box and adjusting for resulting formatting issues (of which there are many, as it seems Word and Google Docs formatting is not supported by the Common App program), a student must manually insert each paragraph break. These spaces will not be evident within the saved text box, and the final essay will appear much like the example of single-return formatting above. In order to confirm that paragraph line breaks have actually been added in the appropriate places, students need to view a PDF print preview of the essay, which is accessible only as part of the active submission process. What. A. Pain. Still, the tool is available to students, and we suggest they use it. The step-by-step process should go something like this:
- To access the PDF print preview, you must first fill out all sections of the Common Application. Before attempting to preview the essay via submission, make sure each section has been marked with a green check box indicating completion of all requirements.
- Enter a school’s application from the list in the dashboard. You may want to add a random school specifically for testing reasons. The testing process will be infinitely easier if this school has no additional supplement requirements.
- Fill out all the data for this test school. You will then be able to start the submission process.
- Hit “Submit” to access a PDF print preview option. Scroll to the bottom of the application to find the Common App essay, and check it thoroughly to ensure spacing and formatting is all properly applied.
- If you need to make changes to the essay post-preview, you must exit the submission process. There are multiple ways to halt submission, but since you will be experimenting so close to the final stage of the application process, we do recommend again that the Common App essay be previewed through the lens of a test school.
This is what you should see in your PDF print preview:
Isn’t it beautiful?
Back To School seems to have kick started a host of last-minute revisions to the online Common Application, and we are committed to staying on top of the latest updates. Check our blog regularly for more information and for fun essay writing tips and tricks that will help you craft a more interesting and effective personal statement, now complete with paragraphs!