What Is The Common App? Everything You Need To Know


Applying to college can be one of the most stressful things a student has to do up until this point in their life. While it’s exciting to begin this next chapter, the steps required to apply to each college that you want to apply to can be rather confusing and overwhelming. Thankfully, colleges have recognized the time-consuming craziness that exists with college applications, and thus the Common Application was born. But what is the Common App exactly? Let’s find out!



What Is The Common App?

There are many steps to applying to college, and the Common App helps to reduce some of those steps by streamlining the entire process. The Common Application allows students to apply to many schools at once, using just one application. This way, you don’t have to fill out the same information (like your personal information, transcripts, etc.), over and over again.



Do I Have To Use The Common App To Apply To College?

The short answer to “Do I have to use the Common App?” is “No”.


While it certainly may be more convenient to do so, as long as the school(s) you’re interested in applying to accept applications through their own website, you will not necessarily need to use the Common App. In fact, some schools will require that you do that and may not even exist as an option on the Common Application, anyway.


On the other hand, there may be schools that require you to apply through the Common App, so it just depends. Be sure to read the instructions on your prospective school’s website before applying.



What Colleges Are Members On The Common App?

The Common Application is used by nearly 900 schools, including schools that are non-U.S. based. While we could put that entire list here, you’ll find it much easier to go to the website to either browse the list of colleges on the Common App, or to search for a specific school.



Do Colleges Care If I Use The Common App Or A Different Platform?

Some students may be concerned that due to the generality of the Common App, schools won’t feel the student’s interest as much as if they were to apply via the school website’s application or a different application. But this is not the case!


Schools will not pay less attention to you just because you’ve used the Common App. But, if you have some concerns, you can usually find out what your prospective school prefers via their website or a quick online search from reliable sources. The Common App is supposed to make applying to college more efficient, not to give you less eyes on your application by choosing to use it.



Who Can Use The Common App?

The Common Application is for first-year students, transfer students, and students who may be returning to school after a long hiatus. Of course, the other group of people that can use the Common App or those who want to apply to a school that accepts the Common App!



A backpack, laptop, and open notebook on a desk
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash



When Can I Start Working On My College Application Through The Common App?

One of the benefits of using the Common App is that you can apply to many schools at once. Because of this, you can theoretically get a head start on all of these applications, instead of trying to figure out when you should chronologically plan out applying to each school that you want to apply to based on those schools’ deadlines.


Each year, there’s a new edition of the Common Application that’s released. It opens on August 1st of every year — however, students can begin registering for the application at their earliest convenience.



How Long Does It Take To Fill Out An Application?

The amount of time needed to fill out the Common Application and the time needed to gather all the materials needed for it are two different and important things to consider.


Students should give themselves about six weeks to do everything that’s needed to complete the application, including asking teachers for a Common App letter of recommendation, gathering transcripts, and reading through all the application requirements.


Once you have all the materials, the amount of time it will take to complete the application depends on the specific school and how you choose to pace yourself. Also, some schools will have supplemental applications in addition to the Common Application, so be sure to check what the requirements and due dates are for that as well.

The Common Application Essay: 7 Tips

The essay that you’ll need to write for your college application can be one of the most time-consuming and demanding aspects not just of your college application, but of your senior year of high school.


Therefore, having some knowledge about how the essay works, the expectations of colleges regarding the essay, and how you’re going to go about completing it successfully, can help you.



1. What Are The Common App Essay Prompts And How Can I Find Them?


The topics for essay prompts may change slightly from year to year. All of them have a 650-word limit, which may be one of the trickiest parts. There are seven options and you can find the essay prompts on the Common App website blog.


Some essay prompt examples are, “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?” Another is, “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”


These essays are meant to give the college an idea of who you are and why you’d be a good fit for their school, in addition to the academic qualifications.



2. Consider The Choices


There are seven essay prompts to choose from for the Common Application, so take your time deciding which one you want. You may start writing one essay but then find that another one makes more sense, so it’s okay to brainstorm a few ideas before committing.



3. Look At Successful Essays


A great way to make sure you’re on the right track when writing your essay is to first look at successful essays online as an example.



4. Start Early


Even if you’re a good fast writer, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to write your essay, as you’ll need to improve on it, edit it, and fine-tune it as much as possible before submitting it with your application.



5. Get Feedback


If there are people in your life that can help with your college essay, ask! Ask whoever you can, including people who know you personally and those who don’t, so you can get an insider and outsider’s perspective.



6. Revise


Once you’ve had others give you some feedback on your essay, it’s time to revise. However, making revisions shouldn’t be a one-time thing. It’s a process. As you revise, be sure to take time to step away from your essay and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. Revising is a process.



7. Remember The Prompt And Guidelines


Before submitting your essay, read the prompt and guidelines again and ensure that you’ve answered the question thoroughly.



Applying for the Common App
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash



What Does The Common App Cost?

The high costs of attending college doesn’t start your first day of school. While using the Common App is free, submitting to the schools you want costs money, and can range from $30 to $75 per application. The good news is 42% of member schools don’t require an application fee, according to U.S. News & World Report.


Although the University of People has some fees, we’re still much cheaper than any other university. Best of all, we’re still a tuition-free university, which may be worth considering as an option before beginning your college applications through the Common App.



Can I Get Fee Waivers For The Common App?


If you have concerns about paying for your college applications, you can get what’s called a “fee waiver.” If you qualify — essentially by answering whether or not your family has financial hardship — means that you can get a fee waiver for each school you apply to.



Do You Apply For Financial Aid Through The Common App?


While you don’t directly apply for financial aid through the Common App, you can work with your parents or guardians to answer the questions you would need to help determine your eligibility for financial aid.



How Do You Apply To The Common App For Colleges?

  • Create a Common App account
  • Confirm which schools on your list accept the Common Application
  • Review admission information for every school you’re considering
  • Gather the information you know you’ll need
  • Begin your application
  • Complete and submit your application by the due date


How To Check The Status Of Your Application(s)

In order to check the status of your application(s) on the app itself, a green check means your work has been submitted, a red dash means nothing is required for that particular section, and yellow means it’s in progress. Most schools will have information on when you can expect to receive a decision from a college, but usually, you have to wait until then to hear. Therefore, the only status you can check is whether or not your application has been submitted, not whether or not you’ve been accepted.



2 Tips For Applying On The Common App

1. Mistakes To Avoid On Your Common Application

  • Don’t forget to write down your account information so that you can easily login each time you want to work on your application.
  • Did you answer all the questions? Don’t leave anything out!
  • Career readiness information is valuable via the Common App, so utilize it!
  • Give others time to help you. You don’t need to do this all by yourself.
  • You can only apply up to twenty colleges on the Common App, so be sure which ones you want to apply to.


2. What Should I Do If I Run Into Problems On The Common App?


If you run into problems on the Common App, there’s a tech support team that’s reachable 24/7, as well as video tutorials to guide you through the process of filling out the application. Otherwise, if you just have basic questions, you can ask your guidance counselor.



The Bottom Line

Applying to college is just the start of an exciting new beginning. However, applying to college the traditional way, whether that means using the Common App or not, may not be the right way to go about starting this journey. You may start to question if college is right for you. But, don’t worry! The University of the People not only is tuition-free and all online, it also has a rather easy application process. Apply now!


You might also be interested in: