Explaining How to Use the Common App When Applying to College

The Common Application, also known as the Common App, is an undergraduate college admission application shared among 517 member colleges and universities in the United States and 6 foreign countries. About one-third of these member institutions use the Common App as their exclusive admission application. Founded in 1975, the Common App is currently in its 4th edition.

Online Exclusive Application

The Common Application has two versions: first-year admission and transfer admission. Each of these applications are available exclusively online, paper copies cannot be submitted to member schools. The first day to begin the application for the following fall is August 1st. The commonality of the application allows for all entered information to be submitted to selected schools electronically via the Common Application website. A student may also create separate versions of the application for individual schools if they wish. Once the application is transmitted to a college online, it cannot be changed for that college. If the student would like to edit the application after submission, they must contact the college directly. The Common Application also allows the student to submit and track other components of their application such as supplements, payments, and school forms.

Holistic Review

The mission of this not-for-profit organization is to encourage member schools to create a ‘holistic selection process’ for student admission. This means a student is judged subjectively by each prospective school using such factors as essays, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities along with objective factors such as class rank, standardized test scores and Grade Point Average (GPA). The Common App believe this holistic review allows for schools to promote equity and integrity in the college admission process. Only schools who accept the holistic admission criteria (not solely objective factors) are accepted into membership.

Essay Prompts

There are five essay prompts on the Common Application in which a student has the flexibility to choose to answer one. Five new questions were created for the 4th edition which began for the 2013-14 admission year. Along with new questions, the length of the essay remained at the 250 word minimum, but increased from 500 to a 650 maximum word limit. The essay prompts are the main aspect of the application. The student should allow the admission office to learn about their: values, uniqueness and creativity. The student should also be creative, reflective, expressive and honest about themselves, while portraying their writing and critical thinking skills.

Supplement Questions

Many member institutions require a ‘Common App Supplement.’ These are additional question(s) that are asked in order to complement a student’s application. Many times, colleges will ask specific questions regarding the school or programs they have to offer. There are only two restrictions for a supplement question: that it does not re-ask questions already answered and that it does not violate the National Association for College Admissions Counselors Statement of Principles and Good Practice.

If you would like more advice or tips on the Common Application, contact us.

Thomas Jaworski is the lead consultant of Quest College Consulting. He is an Independent College Counselor with over ten years experience in the college admission process as an Certified Illinois Teacher (Type 09) and Counselor (Type 73) while also a member of IECA and NACAC. For more information, you can visit his website at QuestCollegeConsulting.com or email him at tjaworski@QuestCollegeConsulting.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_QuestCC or on Facebook at Facebook.com/QuestCollegeConsulting

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