The Common Application : A Comprehensive Guide

The Common Application is a revolutionary initiative in education land. Learn about the application, features, and more through our comprehensive guide

Updated by Tanya Dutta on 28th October 2020

Filling college applications can be a tedious job. It requires patience, time, and monumental effort to sit through each application.  The invention of the Common Application catered to the interests of students by being a one-stop application destination for multiple colleges. For the longest time, students had ‘craved’ for a system that could troubleshoot the inconvenience of tasking college applications and in 1975, their prayers were answered. The invention of the Common Application has come a long way since its inception. Starting with just 15 colleges to its name, it is now supported by more than 700 educational institutions all over the United States of America. 

The Common Application: Prologue

The Common Application is a one-stop online application supported by more than 900 educational institutions all over the U.S. It is a means to amplify the volume of college admission applications and decrease the user’s time spent in individually applying to colleges. This could be achieved due to its ability to retain basic information (such as GPA, address, extracurricular, etc.,) previously entered by the applicant. This enables the user to spend less time and apply to more colleges by making simple modifications wherever required. 

The application also behaves like an online tracker of college deadlines and recommends the required documents to be attached while applying to a college. 

You may also read - Common App vs Coalition App

Who uses the Common Application?

As of 2020, there are 900 education institutions that support and accept student applications via the Common App. From private institutions to public schools to liberal arts colleges, the Common App is a popular online admission tool. 

Step by step process to your Common App application

The Common App has made college application look like a walk in the park. For the current year, the application process commences on August 1st, 2020 with the inclusion of 40 new schools to the list of member institutions. It is highly recommended to create the Common Application account well before the application date. The deadline for the Common Application is divided on the basis of the early and regular decisions. Every year, November 1st is assigned as the deadline for early decision application, and the January 1st is allotted to the regular decision applications. However, deadlines may differ from school to school. 

Following are the steps to your Common App application -  

Sign up to create an account

The Sign Up process is similar to opening an email account. You can use a pre-existing email id to complete the sign-up process. You are required to identify yourself as a teacher, parent, or counselor and update your date of application to colleges.

Make a wish-list of Common App Colleges 

Before applying to colleges, it is wise to make a list of the schools that you are interested to apply to. It leaves you with a more systematic experience of the College Application. 

Scrutinize admission requirements of colleges

It is imperative to research the admission eligibility of colleges. Different schools will have different requirements( essays, letters of recommendation, writing and reading tests, etc). The primary data input( GPA, extracurriculars, address) remains intact but students are required to make modifications as per the needs of the collages. 

For instance, SAT Subject Test results are compulsory in some colleges and optional in others. 

Make a folder of your important documents. 

Common information that (most) colleges seek are:

  • Copy of school transcripts 

  • Extracurricular activities 

  • Educational and career history of the guardian or parents

Start applying

You can view your wish list of colleges on the application dashboard and keep track of the status of individual components. Fill in the general information on the form, submit the required documents, and follow the instructions displayed on the App.

Keep a tab on your application

The College App uses the following to intimate you on the status of your application:

  • The Green check implies the submission of your college application

  • The yellow circle indicates partial completion of your application

  • A red dash suggests that a specific section is not an essential requirement for your college admission

Punctual submission of application 

It is essential to submit your application well before the date of the deadline to avoid unprecedented complications during submission.

The Common Application Selection Process

The Common Application follows the dictum of extending education across all barriers. In doing so, it has regulated certain selection criteria to weed out the most deserving candidates. Academics take a back seat, and the applicant is evaluated on a plethora of attributes. Extracurriculars play a prime role in the selection process. Additionally, an attested character certificate or letters of recommendation can do wonders for an applicant. With as many as 900 member schools, the Common App is seeking a diversified crowd in terms of socio-economic status. There is also an opportunity to apply for a fee waiver. Check out the Common App fee waiver policies.  All Common App institutions take into account the following during the selection of applicants-

  • A student is not judged primarily on his/her educational background.

  • A well-written essay of 250 words or more is essential to determine your selection in the college of your choice. The applicant is also required to produce a letter of recommendation from a faculty advisor or teacher. These letters of recommendation hold outmost priority in determining your admittance into the school. It needs to have substantial information on all your successful pursuits(academics, extracurriculars, character certification, etc.)

  • Many Common App schools seek diversity in their student demographics. International students can use this as leverage

The Common Application Essay 

An integral part of the Common Application is its essay component. A standard essay of 250 words or more is a pre-requisite of the application. Every year, as many as 7 common App essay prompts are announced. A major perk of the Common Application essay is its usage in multiple college applications. However, educational institutions may have individual essay prompts, and the applicant may be required to submit a supplemental essay in addition to the Common App essay. As declared by the official website, the essay prompts for 2020-2021 will follow the same as that of 2019-2020. Here are the Common Application essay prompts for 2020-2021 - 

Essay Prompt 1 - Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

Essay Prompt 2 - 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?

Essay Prompt 3 - Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Essay Prompt 4 - Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Essay Prompt 5 - Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others

Essay Prompt 6 - Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?

Essay Prompt 7 - 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

Features of the Common Application

The Common App is your career counselor. It guides your path and advises on your choices of college applications. The Virtual Counsellor feature of the College App helps you achieve the maximum in a limited span of time. It is an aid, partner, and counselor-all in one! There are several 'extremely useful' features that are live on the Common App website/account. These have proved to augment not only the user experience but have also improved the odds of getting accepted by schools. Following are the top features of the Common Application -

  • There is a feature for the counselors which allows them to view the details on each teacher, allotted to individual colleges instead of the consolidated list

  • The teachers can accept invitations and immediately connect with students as opposed to waiting to be assigned to a school

  • The user can submit up to 3 documents/files for a single question/prompt. These are consolidated as one file by the system 

  • Teachers can keep a tab on the student’s progress on permission

  • There is an option for reviewing past roles, and position history while getting notified of new invites for the role of the recommender

  • There is a feature to quickly sort or filter students based on attributes like the year of graduation, application deadlines, colleges, the status of an application, and more

  • Users can also benefit from the ‘to-do-list’ feature which notifies them of pending applications, college deadlines, and more

  • Another feature that has proved to be quite beneficial is the App’s ability to provide insights on the application, such as, a missing section on the application, required documents for submission, and more

In addition to the aforementioned features, the Common Application provides in-depth insights on its essay components, helps explore and learn about the member institutions, notifies the submission of an application, and more

The upcoming features include a provision to submit a second application (to additional institutions) after the first attempt, modify your application even after submission (but before it reaches the college/university) and more. 

Conclusion

The Common Application has helped millions of students achieve their goals. Its efficiency is top-notch and has a user-friendly interface. Applying to colleges has never looked this easy, all thanks to the most trusted Common App.