The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple colleges and universities. Applying to college can be a tedious and stressful process for students and their parents. In addition to finishing their last year of high school, teens may also be juggling the SAT or ACT, college tours if available and applications for numerous schools.
The Common App, which is accepted by more than 900 schools, including some colleges located outside the U.S., helps streamline an essential part of the admissions process for students.
Through the platform, first-time and transfer applicants alike can apply to multiple colleges at once. So students only have to fill out details that most schools require, including name, address and extracurricular activities, one time.
“The idea behind the Common App is to try and reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college,” says Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of The Common Application.
Despite its popularity, the Common App may be confusing for some families who are new to the college application process. The guide below can help ease students and parents through the application.
When Can I Start Working on My College Application Through the Common App?
The new edition of the Common App opens Aug. 1 every year. Given the variance in college application deadlines, students should pay close attention to when they need to submit their materials.
For example, students who are applying early action or early decision may need to submit an application in November or December, whereas the regular decision deadline is more likely to be Jan. 1 for many schools. Prospective students should treat these ranges as a general rule of thumb and check with individual colleges on deadlines.
Updates to the Common App for this year include removing questions on student discipline in high school as well as military discharge status; adding more citizenship status options for international and undocumented students and removing certain questions related to geography and family, or making those optional; adding a question about students’ preferred first names; and expanding options for gender identity expression.
Students don’t have to wait until Aug. 1 to get started on the Common App. They can create an account at any time and transfer their information into the new app when it opens.
How to Complete the Common Application
Here are steps for how students can work on an application through the platform.
- Go to commonapp.org and click on the “Start your application” button to get details about how to create an account and log in. Additionally, students can download the Common App’s mobile app to keep track of deadlines, invite recommenders and set reminders.
- Choose the first-year student or transfer student option.
- Add user information such as name, email, phone number, address, date of birth and prospective enrollment year.
- Fill out the user profile with requested details on education, extracurriculars, demographic data, household information and more.
- Add collaborators such as teachers, counselors and others providing letters of recommendation or other supporting documents.
- Search for and add schools to “My Colleges.”
- Get familiar with each college’s application requirements and follow those accordingly when applying.
The summer before senior year of high school is a great time for students to start on their applications, experts say.
“If you aren’t going to be out of town or out of the country with no access to the internet, please start your application Aug. 1,” says Marissa Warren, a school counselor at Yorktown High School in New York.
Students don’t have to submit their applications during the summer. But starting in August gives them the opportunity to review the requirements for schools they’re considering, draft essays and get some of the tedious background information completed before they get bogged down with homework and activities, Warren says.
Starting early also allows students to get the help they need at the beginning of the school year, she adds.
How Long Does It Take to Fill Out an Application?
The time it takes to fill out an application varies based on a school’s requirements, experts say. However, students need to give themselves at least six weeks to get everything they need for college applications, says Christine Chu, a premier college admissions counselor with IvyWise, an education consulting company based in New York. That’s two weeks to fill out any background information and about a month for other required documents.
In addition to any optional parental information needed – such as employer details and educational background – many schools require first-year applicants to submit recommendation letters and transcripts. Students need to give teachers and counselors enough time to submit those materials to the Common App before deadlines.
High school counselors encourage students to ask their teachers for recommendation letters before the end of their junior year so that educators can work on them during the summer. Seniors who need recommendation letters should ask for them early in the school year, experts say.
What Are the Common App Essay Prompts, and Where Can I Find Them?
The questions that students have to answer in their first-year essay for the upcoming school year 2021-2022 will be almost the same as the ones they answered for the previous school year 2020-2021. We will change a question about problem-solving and ask a question about being kind and thankful instead.
The Common App will still have a question about how coronavirus affected students in 2021. It’s not required to answer, but you can if you want. You can only write 250 words to answer this question. About one in five people who applied for college during the 2020-2021 school year answered a question about COVID-19, according to someone who works for Common App.
People can write up to 650 words for their essays when applying. The subjects change. Some tasks ask students to think about what they learned or how they improved themselves, and tell stories about it. Students can choose to write an essay about anything they want or talk about a topic that interests them.
People who want to apply can find the questions they need to answer for their essay on the Common App’s website.
Experts suggest that choosing any of the seven prompts is okay. What’s most important is that the prompt allows applicants to share things about themselves that are not mentioned in other parts of their application.
Bonnie Casson-Deweese, who is in charge of matching students to colleges at KIPP Houston Public Schools, advises against repeating what has already been stated in other sources. She tells students to think about what makes them unique, not just their schoolwork. If you’re trying to get into Harvard, being the top student in your high school isn’t special because many other students also apply as top students.
Not all schools need an essay from students. Some schools might ask for extra information or an extra essay. If you want to apply to any school using the Common App, you can see what you need to do by: 1. Logging in to your account as a student. 2. Downloading a PDF from the Common App’s website.
Before starting their applications, candidates can look at additional questions for schools on the Student Solutions Center of the platform.
What Should I Do if I Run Into Problems With the Common App?
Experts recommend that students who need help with their application should ask their high school counselor or admissions officers at the colleges they are applying to.
The Common App has things to help make applying easier.
The program provides help all the time. You can watch videos to learn, and you can get help whenever you need it – every hour of every day. Students can get answers to common questions or ask their own question in the Student Help Center. The time it takes for a response can be different, but the typical wait time is 20 minutes, as said by Common App workers.
Can I Get Fee Waivers for the Common App?
You can use the Common App for free. Almost half of the schools that use it don’t charge first-year students to apply. This information comes from the Common App. If a student is applying to a college that charges a fee for the application, they will need to pay that fee when they send in their application.
People who meet the requirements set by the National Association for College Admission Counseling to get their fees waived can let the college know when they apply.
Rickard says that if a student has financial difficulties, they only have to mention it once in their application. They can use the fee waiver for any school they apply to.
Experts say that students who want to know if they can get their fees waived should ask their school counselor or the college they are applying to.
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What Tips Can Make Filling Out the Common App Easier?
Don’t wait until the very last minute of the day. On the month of January. Experts suggest that some students should complete their applications. Common App representatives say that schools will accept late applications, but it’s not worth the stress of rushing and making mistakes.
Experts suggest that students use the Common App preview to check their application before submitting it. It’s also good to start early.
Students can choose someone to advise them on their application progress and share parts of their application with them.
Do I Have to Use the Common App to Apply to College?
Students don’t have to use the Common App. Many college students use this platform, but there are other options available for applying to college.
Lots of schools let students apply by using the internet on their websites. Some states have a way for students to apply to colleges. Students either have to use this way or they can choose to use it. An example is Texas, where they have a way to apply for all schools in the state. But some schools in Texas also take applications from the Common App.
Famous schools like MIT and Georgetown only allow people to apply on their school websites. Lots of top schools, like Harvard and Amherst College, use the Common App to get applications from students.
Some schools also use other applications like the Coalition Application and the Common Black College Application, which is for Black colleges and universities with a history. Lots of schools use the Common App along with those platforms.
Do Colleges Care if I Use the Common App or a Different Platform?
Some colleges let students apply in different ways. It doesn’t matter which way the students choose, but school counselors may have a preference. Experts say that the Common App working together with Naviance, a software that helps people prepare for their future careers and college, makes it easier for counselors to send important papers to colleges.
Students need to send only one application for each college. They can use the platform that suits them the most.
Heidi Meyer, who is in charge of accepting students to University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, wants them to choose the application that works best for their situation and the school they want to go to.
How Does the Common App Work for Transfer Students?
The way the Common App works for transfer students is similar to how it works for new students, but there are some changes.
Students who have gone to college before and are transferring to a new college will need to provide more information than those who are applying for the very first time. The Common App wants to know if transfer students have been to any other schools, the dates they went, what classes they took, and what their grades were.
Transfer students must write an essay. The Common App changed their transfer essay requirement last year to have the same questions as first-time applicants.