The Common App

Find out why you should consider using the Common Application. Including a list of pros and cons and the number of colleges that accept this type of application.

Shawna Newman

September 05, 2023

The Common App
If you're applying to two or more participating schools, the Common Application is well worth your while.
You've narrowed your choice of colleges down to several different schools. Next comes the fun part: filling out and submitting multiple college applications. This means repeatedly entering your name, school information, and writing multiple personal essays. You’re not alone when it comes to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by repetitive data entry just to see if you’re accepted to your top college choices. Most high school students are juggling a lot during their senior year of school. But there is a popular alternative to streamline your college application process—the Common Application.

What is the Common App?

The Common Application, commonly known as the Common App, is a standardized undergraduate college application form. The Common App platform is free to use. First-time and transfer students can apply to multiple colleges and universities using the Common Application.
According to the Common App website, more than 1,000 colleges and universities are accepting the standardized college application.

When Does the Common App Open?

The Common App opens August 1. If you are planning to apply to colleges for the fall semester for the upcoming school year, you can begin working on your application on August 1.
Do not begin working on your writing section and letters of recommendation prior to August 1, as this information will not be transferred to next year’s application season. You can, however, begin working on other aspects of your Common Application profile prior to August 1, as this information will transfer to the new application season.

Completing the Common App

The Common Application looks like most college applications systems, with all the usual fields for name, address, school and test data, as well as questions about your work experience and volunteer activities.

General Application Information

You’re encouraged to gather important information after you create an account and before you apply for the Common App. This information includes: • High School Transcripts • List of Activities, Work and Family Responsibilities • ACT/SAT Test Scores and Dates • Parent or Legal Guardian Information • Academic Honors and Achievements

Letters of Recommendation

Most colleges will require letters of recommendation. The Common App makes it easy to invite recommenders to submit entries. Once you have created your Common App account, you’ll have the opportunity to invite your teachers, counselors, and mentors, to submit letters of recommendation within your Common App account. Make sure you send those invitations after August 1.

Writing Section

Many colleges require some type of essay, whether that’s a personal statement or a prompted essay specific to a university. You can search for writing expectations from each university on the Common Application's Writing Requirements by College. The first portion of the Common App’s writing section is the Personal Essay. Some colleges make this a requirement for you to complete. Even if it is not required by a college on your list, we recommend completing it to show your enthusiasm and to keep your application unique. The personal essay portion of your Common App writing portion will provide you with seven essay prompts to choose from. You’re expected to submit 250-600 words inspired by the prompt you chose.

Additional College Requirements

Many colleges and universities require a supplement in addition to the Common Application. Supplements are considered portfolios, or additional, institution-specific questions and, in some cases, additional essay questions. Common App has created a requirements grid PDF to see a full list of requirements by college. Plan ahead; compare the PDF with the top-choice colleges you’re applying for via the Common App. Many colleges and universities require a supplement in addition to the Common Application. Supplements usually contain additional, institution-specific questions and, in some cases, additional essay questions. Most institutions that require supplements have them available for download on their Webpage. Don’t be afraid to include extra materials, just because a college or university doesn't require a supplement. If you're a musician or artist, include samples of your work with your application. If you'd like to highlight additional volunteer or community work, include those experiences as well.

Which Colleges Accept the Common Application?

Both private and public colleges in all 50 United States participate in the Common App college admissions process. Universities in 20 countries also use the Common Application for college admission. After you’ve narrowed down your list of colleges you’d like to attend, check to see if they’re accepting the Common App.

How to Apply to Common App Colleges

Complete the application online for free and submit it directly to participating institutions. The site is encrypted for your privacy and requires that you register beforehand. Once you've created an account you can save, alter, and revise your application as often as you like before submitting.

  1. Create your Common App account.
  2. You do not have to apply for colleges right away to create your Common App account. You will need to provide basic information like your email and home address, phone number, legal name, and birthday information.

  3. Build your list of Common App colleges.
  4. You can build a list of 20 colleges you are interested in, anytime. Use their College Search tab to explore and filter colleges of interest by state and distance from zip code. Find out the Common App colleges’ application deadlines and their application fees, too.

  5. Review each college’s specific admission requirements.
  6. Use the My Colleges Tab to review standardized testing policies, the recommender requirements and additional college application requirements. This Common App tool is a great way to gauge your college application season workload.

  7. Complete your application.
  8. Ensure that all the items necessary to successfully complete your application are finished. Use your My Colleges Tab to double-check that the college you are applying to does not require additional application assets outside of your Common App application.

  9. Submit your application.
  10. Finally, submit your Common App Application. While some students consider this the last step, it is not. Be sure to check the email you used for your Common App account often. You will receive important updates regarding your applications at the email address you provided.

The Pros and Cons of the Common App

The pros of the Common Application outweigh the cons. The Common App streamlines your college application process and looks like most college applications.

The Advantages of Using the Common App

The Common App saves you a lot of time. Instead of typing the same information multiple times, you have only to do it once. You will also save postal time and fees. You can write one personal essay (in most cases). Channel all your efforts into crafting a single, flawless essay. Request and organize your recommendation letters within your Common App profile. The obvious advantage to the Common Application is that it saves you time. Instead of typing the same information multiple times, you have only to do it once. More importantly, there's only one personal essay to write. This not only saves time, but it also allows you to channel all your efforts into crafting a single, flawless essay. Another bonus: High school juniors can begin their Common App. It’s recommended that college-bound students begin to explore the application in the spring of their 11th grade year. You also have the option to rollover your Common App account from year to year.

The Disadvantages of Using the Common App

One Common App disadvantage is its limited acceptance. While thousands of colleges currently accept the application, it’s still a fraction of the 6,000+ institutions around the country. Each year, however, it continues to grow in acceptance. The Common App platform is simple to navigate, making it easier for you to apply to more schools. This could also influence you to apply to more colleges than you really want or need to. If you decide to go this application route, stick to your top colleges. Filling out multiple college applications is tedious and time-consuming. If you are applying to two or more participating schools, the Common Application is well worth your while.

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Shawna Newman

Managing Editor, Contributing Writer

Shawna Newman is the Managing Editor and a writer at Fastweb. She has over 10 years of experience in higher education. Her direct work with college admissions teams, financial aid officers, college deans, ...

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