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Get to Know the Common Application

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More than one million students apply to college each year using the Common Application. Why? It lets you apply to multiple colleges using one centralized application--and a whole lot more. Here’s a crash course in the Common App.

What is the Common App?

The Common Application is a free application platform accepted by more than 800 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years, the Common App has evolved from a single form students could use to apply to several colleges into a large college application hub. Students now use the Common App to research colleges, build their college lists, request recommendations, manage deadlines, apply for scholarships, and more.

Where Can You Find the Common App?

Students can access the Common App at commonapp.org, and most colleges accepting it provide links to the application from their websites. Using the Common Application is free. You will, however, have to pay the college’s application fees, although application fee waivers are available through the Common Application for students who qualify.

When Can You Begin Applying with the Common App?

A new version of the Common Application is available every August 1, but you can create an account and start entering your information before that date. If you want to familiarize yourself with the Common App before you start applying to schools (which counselors recommend), you can create a “practice” account, which allows you to access all the features of the platform and complete a practice application without sending it to colleges.

Is there a Common App Essay?

Many, but not all, colleges that accept the Common App require a personal essay. The Common App features seven essay topics from which to choose and announces them in the Spring prior to August 1. This is great news if you want to get a summer head start on your essay. (See How to Write Your Common App Essay for tips). You can customize your essay for different colleges and send different versions to different schools.

What about other requirements?

While you only need to create your application and personal essay once for all your colleges, some schools have additional requirements, such as multiple recommendation letters and additional essays. The Common App has some special features that help you keep track of these details and submit materials.

  • The Common App clearly lists the requirements for every college you are applying to. As you complete your applications, it parses out any additional questions or writing supplements required and keeps them front-and-center. The application will flag these items if you try to submit your application without them.
  • The Common App will notify your counselors, teachers and other recommenders when recommendation letters are due and send them recommendation and grade report forms to complete and return through the platform.
  • You can submit videos or portfolio pieces highlighting your skills and outside interests.
  • All registered users of the Common App have access to its free mobile app, Common App onTrack. The mobile app provides additional reminders and push notifications specific to your colleges.

A Special App for Transfers

Students transferring from two-year or four-year colleges can use the Common App for Transfer to apply to more than 650 four-year schools. This platform provides and collects forms specific to the transfer application process and customizes the application experience based on a student’s age, goals and degree status.

How to Get Started with the Common App

Because the Common Application has so many features, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the platform long before you start working on your applications. Visit the Common Application's Applicant Solutions Center for more information and links to video tutorials.

Also, for more information, access CollegeData’s Common Application Guide, which shows you all the colleges on CollegeData that accept the Common App, as well as their application deadlines, fees, and the number of essays and recommendations they require. 

What's Next?

Take a look at Common Application Colleges at a Glance to review each college's application deadlines, fees, and requirements.

Use the College Chances Calculator to learn what it takes to get into these colleges.

See How to Write Your Common Application Essay for the current Common Application essay topics and tips for choosing the best topic for you.

The information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.