Everything You Need to Know About the Common App


Accepted by over 900 colleges, the Common App helps to streamline the process of application to UG programs for both first-time applicants and transfer cases. The process of college applications is equally tedious for both parents and children – from taking high school examinations, the necessary tests for application such as SAT and ACT, to shortlisting programs and colleges, filling up forms, and writing essays.

As the name suggests, it is a common platform that reduces the need to fill up your basic details and information for each application form. You will have to answer only one common app essay for applying to all of your shortlisted colleges, albeit a few colleges may ask you to answer a few supplementary essay questions.


Which Schools Accept the Common App?

Over 900 colleges, including many public colleges, accept applications through the Common App. Even beyond the USA, at least 50 universities across 18 countries use the Common App. All eight Ivy League schools including Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth University, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale use Common App. Even among the highly competitive colleges, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, North-western, Vanderbilt, and Rice accept the Common application forms. However, many colleges such as MIT and Georgetown do not accept applications through Common App, even UC colleges have their separate platform, and Texas has a separate state system for online applications.


When to Start with the Common App?

Start with your Common App at least two months before your planned date of application form submission. You can take the first two weeks to create your account, enter your details, and add your shortlisted colleges. You will need at least over a month to prepare your essays and prepare all your documents, including your transcripts and letters of recommendation from your teachers.

On the 1st of August every year, Common App launches its new edition with the necessary updates to the platform. For instance, for 2023–24 applications, the Common App has removed questions on military discharge status, made questions related to family and geography optional, included more citizenship status options for international and undocumented students and on students’ preferred first names, and expanded options for gender identity.

Regardless, you do not need to wait till the 1st of August to start your Common Application. You can start entering your information in the Common Application form, save it on the platform, and transfer it to the updated version. Always check the deadlines for the programs and check the intakes you wish to apply to. If you want to apply in the Early Decision or Early Action round, you will have to apply by November – December and if you wish to apply in Regular Decision, you can submit your Common App application by January.


How to log in to Common App?

Here’s a detailed step-by-step approach on how to create your Common Application account.

  • Visit commonapp.org and click on Start Your Application. This will give you all the details about creating a Common App account and logging in to Common App. You can also download the mobile version of the Common App to easily track your deadlines, set reminders, and invite recommenders.
  • Depending on your application status, select either the first-year student or transfer student option.
  • Enter your basic details such as name, contact number, email id, address, date of birth, and desired year of enrolment.
  • Next, enter your user details such as your academic background, extracurricular activities and interests, demographic data, etc.
  • Under collaborators, add your recommenders.
  • Once you have completed these basic steps, search for your shortlisted colleges and add each of them to My Colleges.
  • Now, you can visit each of your programs directly on one platform and find out about their admission requirements.


Common App Essays

If you are applying to colleges through the Common App platform, you will have to submit one common app essay. This is a 650 words essay and you will have to select one from a given list of seven essay prompts. You can work on your essay in a separate document on your desktop and once you are satisfied with the final result, you will have to copy-paste the entire write-up onto the space provided. The prompts for the common app essay cover a range of topics – from reflecting on an incident when you were grateful, when you challenged an idea, when you overcame a challenge, and that occasioned personal growth, to what interests you the most. The seventh essay prompt gives you a free rein to share a story about yourself.


Tips for Common App

Applications receive no special preference based on the essay prompt that you select, as long as you can justify the question, answer each part of the question, and uphold an interesting aspect of your candidature. Try to strike a balance in representing your cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Moreover, ensure that the story that you select to share through the Common App is not repeated in the Common App form or used to answer any of the college supplementary questions.

Do not wait until the last minute to submit your Common Application. Try to submit your applications as early as possible to avoid the last-minute technical issues brought about by the increased activity on the app. Remember to use the Preview Common App option to review the application form before submission. You can also share your online application details with your counsellor and seek help in reviewing the common app form.


Does Common App Provide Fee Waivers?

The Common App platform is free and 48.9% of the colleges that accept applications through the platform do not take application fees if you are a first-year student. However, for colleges that do take the application fee, you will have to pay the same while submitting your applications. If you wish to be considered for a fee waiver, you need to indicate financial hardship on the Common App form and if you are considered eligible as per the guidelines set by the National Association for College Admission Counselling, you will be considered for the same.


Common App for Transfer Students

If you are looking to transfer to another program or college at the UG level, you can use the Common App platform. The process remains the same for transfer applicants except that you will have to enter additional information on colleges attended, date of enrolment, coursework completed, and GPA. Here also, you will have to submit one essay, the prompts for which have now been revised to be the same as the essay prompts for first-year applicants.

For further details on the Common App, please contact our expert advisors at Manya Education Private Limited.

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Is using the Common App mandatory?

Using the common app to apply to colleges is not mandatory. This is only a platform to make your application process convenient. You can opt to use the Coalition App or even apply directly through individual colleges. Many colleges such as MIT and Georgetown do not accept applications through Common App, even UC colleges have their separate platform, and Texas has a separate state system for online applications. Either way, your application will be reviewed per the set standards.

Who can I contact if I have queries regarding filling up the Common App?

You can take the help of your admissions counsellor while filling up your Common App essay form. If you wish to complete the process by yourself, you can use the resources available on the common app platform itself. A number of video tutorials are present on the platform to take you through the process in detail. Besides, if you run into any technical concerns, the platform provides 24/7 technical support. You can even check the FAQ section of the app or submit your specific query in the Student Solutions Center – usually, a solution is provided within 20 minutes.

Do Ivy League colleges use Common App?

All eight Ivy League schools including Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale accept Common App.

Does colleges outside the USA use Common App?

Yes. The Common App is used by over 900 colleges and by at least 50 international universities across 18 countries.

How many colleges can I apply to through the Common App?

You can apply to a maximum of 20 colleges at once.

How long should my Common App essay be?

You must submit a Common App essay of at least 250 words, with the upper limit being 650 words.

Can the Common App be used by transfer students?

Yes, the application procedure, including the essay prompts remains the same as that of the form for first-year applicants, with the only difference being that the transfer candidates have to fill out extra information pertaining to their GPA, coursework, college attended, etc.

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