What Is The Common App?

So what is this “Common Application” everyone keeps talking about?  Here’s a basic overview. common app 2

The Common Application – or “Common App” as most everyone calls it – will open for the Class of 2015 on Friday, August 1 (link to login here).  It’s an online application that allows students to apply to a broad number of colleges and universities at the same time, filling out just one form that asks for personal, academic and extra-curricular activity information, and the best part:  one major essay (choose ONE from the five prompts here – essay should be a maximum of 650 words).

Over 500 colleges are members of the Common App (which ones? find out here!).  Member colleges agree to give applicants the exact same consideration as students who apply using the colleges’ own proprietary applications – and some colleges use the Common App exclusively.  You can generally find out whether or not a college accepts applications via the Common App on their admissions webpage.

Students should expect to spend several hours filling out information about themselves, their family, their academic history and how they spend their time in the Common App.  Students should also write their essay in a separate document, not directly into the Common App!  Yes, sometimes it crashes and/or does not save the last round of work.

There is also a section on the Common App specifically dedicated to letters of recommendation, including those from counselors, teachers and non-academic advisors (including coaches, clergy, other non-teachers who can provide an evaluation of the student).  Students whose schools use Naviance, or Family Connection, will need to request teacher recommendations through that program; students whose schools do not use Naviance will enter their teachers’ and school counselor’s e-mail addresses directly into the Common App, which will invite them to provide a recommendation electronically.  (If you are a rising junior or senior, you would probably know by now if your school uses Naviance or Family Connection.)

After filling out this information, students add colleges to their Common App list.  Each college has a “member questions” page, in which students are asked a variety of questions, possibly including:

  • Legacy status (relatives who have attended)
  • Possible majors (which may bring up specific questions related to the major)
  • Short answer questions
  • More detailed questions about your high school classes

Some colleges also require supplemental essays, which could range from 150-500 words and which range in topic.  Many supplemental essays ask students to discuss why they are a good fit for THIS PARTICULAR college, and why it is a good fit for them.  As you can imagine, these supplemental essays take a bit of time and thought; generic responses are not desired here.

California’s public universities, the UCs and the Cal States, are not members of the Common App; each system has its own online application (UC application opens tomorrow as well – click here; CSU opens October 1).  So a student applying to just UCLA, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the (private) University of San Francisco would need to fill out three completely separate online applications.  Keep this in mind as each will take a few hours, and some solid concentration.

The Common App does not have one deadline; different colleges have different deadlines.  Students CAN submit one college at a time via the Common App, days, weeks or months apart, depending on deadlines.  The Common App’s “Dashboard” will tell you which sections of each college’s application are complete, and which applications have been submitted.

A quick word about deadlines:  colleges expect students to submit all facets of their application over which they have immediate control – basically all of the parts the Common App requires to submit – by their deadline date.  It’s great if your teacher recommendation letters and test scores could arrive by that date as well, but colleges recognize that you do not have direct control over when your teachers actually write those recommendations, or when the College Board or ACT actually send your scores.  You should plan on sending your scores as soon as you have completed your testing and know where you are applying, and you should ask your teachers to write recommendations as early as possible.

Remember, the Common App doesn’t open until FRIDAY, AUGUST 1 – they won’t let you create your account until then.  And don’t be surprised if it’s slow the first few days!  Take a deep breath – we’ll get through this!

If you haven’t called for a consult yet, feel free to get in touch.  We have two Common App boot camps scheduled for Sunday, August 17 (11 am to 2 pm in Sherman Oaks) and Sunday, August 24 (noon to 3 pm in Century City) and a few spaces available at each.  Please RSVP here if you are interested!

The photo in the header of this post is Earle Bridge at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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