Common App Essay Formatting Problems With Word

The release of the new Common Application came with a plethora of technical problems that forced many schools to push back their Early Decision and Early Action deadlines.

Students are struggling with persistent Common Application issues that have made it difficult to complete and submit applications, adding more pressure to an already stressful process. While the Common Application is working to resolve these issues, many are still prevalent and may not be resolved by the regular admission deadlines.

In addition to extending early application deadlines, some schools, including Princeton University, have even turned to the Universal College Application, allowing students to apply through there as an alternative.

The best way to avoid issues at zero-hour is to get your applications and essays completed early in order to have time to deal with any technical issues that you may encounter when it comes time to submit.

If you encounter problems be sure to submit a help ticket with the Common Application and contact the admissions office at the school to which you are applying. Let them know your situation as many schools are handling delayed applications on case-by-case basis, and they may be able to give you some flexibility on the deadline.

Here are some common problems students have been experiencing with the Common Application and how we have advised students to handle them.

  • Formatting Issues: Many students, after copying and pasting their essays from a Word document into the Common App, have lost the formatting of their essay, turning it into one big block of text. Common App has advised students to write their essays in Text Edit or Notepad to avoid this issue, however these tools do not have a word count feature. Our counselors have found that Google Docs works just as well for copying and pasting without losing formatting, and it does have a word count tool.
  • Print Preview: If you have issues with the print preview, try logging into the Common App through a different web browser. Our counselors have found that Safari tends to work better when trying to generate a print preview. If that is not sufficient, be sure to submit a help ticket immediately.
  • Issues Logging In: Some students have experienced other technical issues like being unable to log in, or logging in and getting an error message. If this happens, immediately submit a ticket with the Common App Help Desk.
  • Missing “Completed” Green Checks: The Green Check function, which displays after a section has been completed, sometimes does not appear even after a student has filled out all the fields in one section. If this is a problem, try clearing a few questions, save the changes, then go back and fill them in again.

The Common Application also has an ongoing list on their site with updates on current problems and their status and issues that have been fixed.

Remember, the most important thing that you can do to ease some of the frustration with the Common Application is to stay calm and be patient. It may take a while, but you will get your application submitted!

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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.



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