What is the Common Application? (Counselor Guide)

What is the Common Application?

What is the Common Application, you ask? 

It’s one online application that is used by 900+ colleges and universities across all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries. Many people think of the “Common App” (as it’s often called) as only used for private institutions, but plenty of public universities use it too, including University of Michigan and many campuses in the SUNY system.

Who can use the Common Application?

Both first-year and transfer students can apply to college with the online application. You can be a U.S. citizen, identify as undocumented or currently hold DACA status. You can use the Common App if you are an international student as well. Just note that there are some slightly different questions about citizenship and residency, and you may have additional questions to answer from some of the colleges.

What’s so special about the Common Application?

Instead of filling out your personal information, academic history and extracurricular activities each time you apply to a school (sounds exhausting, right?), you only have to go through those steps once on the Common App. So, basically, the application saves you time and energy by not having to duplicate your efforts. You enter your info once, and it is accessible to all of the colleges on your list.

And it works the same for school counselors and teacher recommenders; they only have to submit your transcript and letters of recommendation once, and you decide which schools can access that information.  

As part of the Common Application, students will write one essay (up to 650 words) that will go to all of the colleges to which they apply. You can find a list of the prompts here.

So, what’s the catch?

Many colleges/universities that use the Common App also use what’s called a supplement. It’s an additional application where you’re asked about information not already covered on your main Common Application. This is where you list the major(s) that you are considering, whether or not you are applying for need-based financial aid and/or are interested in merit scholarships, and, here’s the catch…..

Some of these schools will ask for an additional written response, or two, or three…They range from questions like Please briefly elaborate on an extracurricular activity to what is the truest thing that you know? Some schools don’t require any additional writing, and others have a very meaty supplement (ahem, Stanford, we’re looking at you).

How much does it cost to use the Common Application?

Technically, the Common App is free to use. You can create an account, add colleges and enter as much content as you like. However, when you’re ready to submit your application, many schools require payment that can range anywhere from $20 up to over $100. Two pieces of good news:

  1. Some schools don’t have an application fee. Thank you, Tulane, Macalester and Carleton (among others)!

  2. You can request a fee waiver in the Profile section of the application if you meet certain economic requirements, and your counselor verifies the fee waiver request (make sure to check in with your counselor!)

What schools don’t use the Common Application?

It’s true that there are colleges and universities out there that don’t use the Common Application. Here are a few examples:

  • Some large public state universities, like the UC system in California, UT Austin and University of Washington, Seattle

  • Private universities that use their own application, including MIT and Georgetown

  • U.S. Military Academies  

How does the Common Application work with my school platform?

Each high school has its own process that they work through with students. Naviance, MaiaLearning or Scoir might ring a bell? High schools use a variety of platforms to manage all of their students’ application documents including the Recommendation Forms, Fee Waiver and Early Decision sections of your applications. So make sure to check in with your school counselor and learn about the process you need to follow.

Helpful counselor links:

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