The college application process can be pretty tedious. Many students struggle with managing multiple applications, entering the same information over and over again, submitting copies of the same documents, and writing separate essays for each college on their target lists.
That’s where the Common App, or Common Application, might help.
But what exactly is it? The Common App is a useful online platform that has revolutionized the college application process, simplifying it for both students and colleges alike.
In this article, we will explore the basics of the Common App, including its purpose, deadlines, essay requirements, and how to make the most of this valuable tool.
The Common App is an online application system used by over 1000 colleges and universities across the United States and even abroad. It allows students to apply to multiple institutions using a single application, eliminating the need for repetitive data entry. With the Common App, you can easily manage your college applications and keep track of your progress throughout the process. The Common App reduces manual effort on your end and also makes it easier for institutions to process the information of each applicant who applies through the Common App.
It helps streamline the process by compiling common requirements, such as your relevant personal details, official transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, recommendation letters, etc., in one place. It also lets you attach your personal essay or statement within the app. This way, you only have to update a few unique requirements each time, based on the colleges you apply to.
The Common App is relatively easy to complete once you get familiar with the interface. Here’s how to fill it out in simple steps:
- Keep your information ready. While the Common App reduces repetitive data entry, you still have to make sure that you submit the right information the first time. Here’s what you should keep on hand:
- Your official college transcripts.
- Test scores (and dates) from any standardized tests
- Employment information, extracurricular activities, and achievements (if applicable)
- Create a Common App account if you haven’t already. You can do so by visiting https://apply.commonapp.org/createaccount. You can also choose to download the Common App on your mobile device through the App Store (for Apple Devices), or Play Store (for Android).
- Choose the option that applies to you: first-year student or transfer student.
- Enter your user information. This may include your name, email ID, phone number, address, date of birth, and prospective enrollment year.
- Add your details on education, extracurriculars, demographics, household information, etc.
- Add collaborators (like teachers, counselors, etc.) by providing letters of recommendation or other supporting documents you’ve received from them. You can also request them to share these through the Common App itself.
- Search for and add your target schools to the “My Colleges” section.
- Familiarize yourself with each college’s application process and make sure to abide by their requirements while filling out the application.
One of the most significant components of the Common App is the personal essay, also known as the personal statement. This essay offers you an opportunity to showcase your unique experiences, values, and aspirations to admissions officers.
The application provides a set of essay prompts for you to choose from. Some colleges may opt to tweak the prompts a bit or have different prompts altogether. That’s why, even though you can theoretically use the same essay across colleges, we recommend using slightly different versions, mentioning the college you’re applying to and talking about how you relate to their core values. For example, Regent University in Virginia strongly emphasizes Excellence, Innovation & Integrity. So if you want to apply to Regent, add a line or two in your essay that talks about what these values mean to you. It’s always nice to add a personal touch to your personal essay.
Common App Essay Word Limit
The Common App essay has a word limit typically set between 250-650 words.
Each school may have different requirements/word counts for their essay questions, so check the specified word count for each section. The Common App system generally notifies you if you exceed or do not meet the word limit for any given essay question.
By staying within the word limit, you demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively and concisely—a skill highly valued in college and beyond. Focus on brevity, say only what needs to be said without flourishing too much. It’s a good idea to aim for a length of 500 to 650 words.
Common App Essay Prompts
The Common App provides a list of essay prompts for you to choose from. These prompts are carefully crafted to inspire introspection and self-expression. They provide you with a canvas to paint a vivid picture of your experiences, values, and aspirations.
Here is the set of Common App essay prompts that were used for the academic year 2022-2023:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Take your time to review each prompt and consider which one resonates with you the most. The goal of the essay is to provide insights into your character, so choose a prompt that allows you to share a meaningful story or perspective.
The latest editions of the Common App become available on August 1 every year and close by January 1.
Meeting application deadlines is crucial for a smooth college application experience. The Common App provides a centralized platform where you can find information about each college’s specific deadlines. There are also different deadlines for early decision or early action. By staying organized and keeping track of these deadlines, you can avoid unnecessary stress and ensure that your applications are submitted on time.
Students who are applying for early action or early decision may need to submit their application by November/December of that year. The regular decision deadline is usually January 1.
While these are the general deadlines followed, we recommend checking the official deadlines for each college and state, for the most accurate information.
BUT! You don’t have to wait until August 1 to start filling in the details on your Common App. You can create an account whenever you want and transfer your information to the latest edition once it becomes available.
- Not all colleges and states accept the Common App.
Some colleges have separate internal application processes which require you to apply directly. Certain states have their own common application processes. For example, Texas uses a common portal called ApplyTexas which is a centralized application for public colleges and many private schools in the state.
Before applying to any college, you should go through their application process in detail so that you don’t miss any important information.
- Some colleges may charge an application fee on Common App.
While nearly half the colleges on Common App do not charge an application fee, there are some that do. These fees typically range between $30-$50 for US students (the fee for international students may be higher). The Common App lets you request a fee waiver if you meet specific criteria. The ‘Help’ section on the Common App site answers most questions about Common App fee waivers.
- The Common App is not the only centralized application portal.
These are two platforms that provide similar services as the Common App:
- The Coalition App (accepted by around 150 top colleges and universities).
- The Common Black College App, also known as the Black Common App (specifically for African-American students who wish to pursue higher education).
- You can’t make changes after submitting your application through the Common App.
Here’s what the Common App policy states:
Once an application has been submitted to any institution, you cannot make any changes to that application (just as if you had dropped it in the mail), and we are not permitted to make changes on your behalf. In general, the Common Application is designed to be completed one time and submitted to all of the colleges at once, or over a period of time. If you need to change information on a submitted application, you must contact the college’s admissions office directly to ask how they would like you to proceed.
This means you need to carefully review your application before sending it to your list of colleges. In case there are any changes required once the application is sent across, you may need to reach out to the admissions offices of the colleges you applied to, letting them know about the changes.
Navigating the college application process can be overwhelming, but the Common App serves as a valuable tool to simplify and streamline your efforts. By understanding the basics of the Common App, including deadlines, essay requirements, and how to make the most of its features, you can confidently approach your college applications. Embrace this opportunity to share your unique story and pursue your educational dreams. Best of luck as you embark on this exciting journey!
Yes, you can use the same essay for different colleges unless they have specific supplemental essay requirements. However, make sure to tailor your essay to reflect each college’s values and mission, if possible.
While creating a Common App account is free, some colleges may charge an application fee, typically between $30-$50.
The Common App has an autosave feature that periodically saves your progress. However, relying solely on autosave is not advisable. You should save your application manually and regularly to avoid any potential data loss. Clicking the save button after making significant updates will give you peace of mind and ensure that your hard work is preserved.
Recommendation letters are not compulsory for all colleges, but many institutions require them as part of the application. You can request recommendations through the Common App and have them submitted electronically.
Usually, you only need one essay per college through the Common App. However, the number of written pieces required can vary from college to college. In addition to the personal statement, some institutions may require supplemental essays. You should carefully review each college’s application requirements and make a plan to manage multiple essays effectively.
The Common Black College App, also known as the Black Common App, is a platform similar to the Common App that helps African-American students apply to colleges and universities to pursue higher education.