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Everything You Need to Know About the CommonApp [2020]

A young woman laying down with her dark blonde hair splayed out around her head. Her hair is covered with violet petals. She is wearing a speckled green shirt and a white mask.

The Common Application opened on August 1st. The CommonApp is an undergraduate college admission application that can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, making it a popular platform for college applications. 

Their member colleges include some of the most applied-to colleges all across the nation, including New York University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Boston University. 

It opens on the same day every year, making it a good gauge on when to: 

  • Seriously deep-dive into colleges you’re interested in so you know what they’re all about
  • Write the first draft of your personal statement
  • Make checklists of things you need, like letters of recommendations, the essays you need to write, and any other components

In general, August 1st is a good time to get ahead of the college application process. If you’re applying Early Admission or Early Decision, applications can be due in as little as four months, while regular admissions deadlines can be as little as five months away (depending on where you’re applying). 

The Common Application can be a great place to get started, especially if you have two or more colleges that accept it. There are other application platforms, such as the Universal Application and Coalition Application, however both have fewer member institutions but also have different goals in mind. For instance, the Coalition App requires college members to have a certain amount of diversity to their student body, as well a cap on national student loan debt. 

Ultimately, you’ll want to determine which platforms offer you the most advantages, i.e., which has the most colleges you’re interested in and features you want to use. Today, though, we’re going to thoroughly discuss the Common App and what to keep in mind if you decide to move forward with filling out your college applications using this platform.

General CommonApp FAQ

The answers to both questions are part and parcel, really. In the early 70s, fifteen colleges and universities came together, united by one goal: make applying to college easier. In 1975, they debuted the Common Application Even 45 years ago, colleges realized the need to make applying for higher education simpler. 

What began as a paper booklet is now 100% digitized, adapting to the needs of students as the years have gone on. 

So, in short, the Common Application is a college application that more than 900 schools accept in a united effort to make applying for higher education less of a burden for high school seniors.

The real benefit to using the Common App is two-fold: 

  1. You won’t have to enter your personal information multiple times. The same-on-every-application portions are auto-filled, essentially, so you can spend more time focusing on the differing portions of your application, like the “Why Our Institution?” question rather than typing in your address for the 10th time. 
  2. Clear checklists of what you need for each application. Plus, if something is required on the Common Application, it typically won’t submit until you’ve completed it.

Does it Cost Anything to Use the CommonApp?

Nope. CommonApp doesn’t charge for students to use their platform, however, a little over half of colleges charge an application submission fee, which can be paid via CommonApp. The cost of application submissions will vary between colleges and, for applicable students, there is a fee waiver form that can be filled out right on CommonApp.

Once financial hardship has been established, it will apply to all college application submissions so you don’t have to fill out the form multiple times. Not sure if you qualify? There are a few simple ways to know: if you qualified for an SAT or ACT fee waiver or are eligible for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program, you more likely than not qualify for a college application fee waiver.

There are other circumstances that make you qualified for a waiver, as well, so speak with your high school counselor or directly with an admissions’ officer from the school you’re interested in. 

Do Colleges Look At Applications through CommonApp Differently? 

Definitely not! Colleges and universities want you to use the platform that works best for you, and if that happens to be CommonApp, then use it. All member colleges have made a pledge to treat applicants from CommonApp the same as from any other platform, whether it be their own website, statewide platform, or otherwise. There are a number of colleges that only use CommonApp. 

The one recommendation that most admissions’ advisors would give is that demonstrated interest is a bit more important. Because it can be incredibly easy to apply once you’ve filled out all required aspects once, colleges and universities want to confirm that you are, truly, interested in their institution.

Make sure that you’re individualizing the answers to any “Why Our Institution” questions and top it off with following the colleges’ social media pages. For some extra oomph, attend a virtual event. 

CommonApp Application FAQs

It really depends on the school, but it’s also not a great idea to look at it in total hours. In reality, students should begin their applications at least six weeks before the due date — however, you’ll need to begin gathering components, like the letters of recommendation — long before then. 

You should ask your recommenders in person or through a personal email first. After they’ve agreed, CommonApp allows you to invite recommenders under the My College tab. You can keep track of when they’re submitted. And yes, the letters can be used for multiple schools. 

Usually, recommenders have questions about anything specific you’d like them to include and CommonApp has that built right into the process. Before sending out requests to your recommenders, you’ll need to answer some questions to help your mentors, professors, and  other important figures in your life write the best possible college recommendation for you. Be sure to answer the questions fully and thoroughly!

I Messed Up On My Application — How Do I Fix it? 

You can edit all sections of the application an unlimited number of times excluding one: the essay. You can only edit it a maximum of three times, likely to discourage students from using the section as a word processor. The best way around this is simply to only use the essay section right before submitting it. Do your writing and editing in Word or Google Docs or Pages or whatever other word processor you like! 

Is There A Way I Can Preview My Entire Application Before Submitting? 

Yes! Once you’ve filled out everything, click “Review and Submit.” This will automatically generate a PDF, which, if possible, you should print and manually look over. The simple act of looking at a printed application versus digital one can make your eye notice mistakes it previously missed. 

Nope! For that, you’ll want to fill out the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA), which every college-bound student should complete as soon as possible after the application opens.

No — the submission process consists of three steps. One, review the PDF of the application. Two, pay the application fee. Three, sign the affirmation and complete submission — if you don’t complete this step, the application is not submitted. Be sure to follow the process all the way through! 

Get Started TODAY!

Good luck to all of the new seniors entering this exciting year! Get started on your applications as early as possible to take off the pressure of last-minute scrambling and keep up the great work. You’re crushing it! 

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for deadline reminders and scholarships, as well as tips for creating great college lists, submitting successful applications, and more! 

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