The Common Application has transformed applying to college. Just one application can be sent to multiple colleges. But is it really that simple? The answer is a qualified "yes," once you know how it works.
The Common Application is an online college application used by over 500 colleges. You complete the application once and send it to any participating college. You can also modify parts of the application for different colleges.
- You must write an essay using one of the Common Application essay topics
- Colleges can add questions, forms, and essay topics
Colleges That Accept the Common Application
For the 2013-2014 admissions year, about 511 public and private U.S. colleges will be accepting the Common Application, according to the Common Application organization. Instructions for applying to these colleges will be available on the Common Application website on August 1. To see which colleges participated in 2012-2013, check CollegeData's Common Application Colleges at a Glance.
Colleges Must Take a "Holistic" Approach
Participating colleges must evaluate students using a "holistic" selection process that considers recommendation letters, at least one essay, and campus diversity, among other factors. The idea is that the college considers the whole applicant, and doesn't admit students based only on data such as GPA and test scores.
Common Application Essay Topics
The Common Application includes an essay of 250-650 words. You must choose one of five broad topics designed to help demonstrate your ability to write clearly and distinguish yourself in your own voice. You can view the essay topics for 2013-2014 here. (It's a good idea to start your essay as soon as possible so you have plenty of time to get feedback and make revisions.)
Most Colleges Have Additional Requirements
Most colleges using the Common Application will ask you to answer additional questions and write an additional essay. Many will also ask for recommendation letters and information from your high school. The Common Application supplies grade report and evaluation forms, which counselors and teachers complete only once and then provide copies to the schools you apply to. Colleges may also require additional materials such as resumes. These requests will be included in the Common Application for that school.
Making Changes to Your Application
You can revise and save your application as many times as you like before submitting it to colleges. Once you have sent a Common Application to your first college, you may create different versions of it for other colleges. For example, you might want to change your essay.
How to Access the Common Application
On or after August 1, go to commonapp.org, or link to the application from the website of a school that accepts it. Using the Common Application is free, but you are still required to pay the college's application fees. You must complete and submit the application online. There is no paper application.
Get Organized, Be Careful, and Take Your Time
Using an application service like the Common Application makes applying to college seem easy. But this is not the time to take shortcuts. Take your time in preparing your answers. Proof carefully. Write your essay on a computer ahead of time and then cut-and-paste it into the essay field. Make a copy of your application just in case you accidentally delete the original. Application services make applying to college easier, but they don't make it foolproof!