Does Columbia Use the Common App?
Today, we’re going to discuss the Common Application (or common app) for applying to college. Does Columbia use the common app? Do they offer any other options for applications? And what is your best option for success?
What is the common app?
The common application is a universal application that is accepted by over 950 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Japan, and many European countries. The purpose of the common app was to simplify applying to college, and it has become increasingly popular since it was invented in 1975.
The reason the common app has become so popular over the years is that students have started applying to more colleges than they once did, and the applications for these schools have become more time-consuming. Because the essay section of applications—especially to Ivy League and other top-tier schools—has become more important, writing different essays for each application you submit may not be feasible due to time constraints.
Schools don’t want to take too much of your precious time because they would rather that you spend it on your studies and activities. As a result, the common app has not only become widely accepted, it has even become encouraged or required by most member schools.
The common app functions very similarly to any college application and include all of the basic topics you would expect to find. You will fill out your profile information for identification purposes. Then you will fill in your family information and educational history. This will allow you to self-report your high school or other college grades and describe where you went to high school.
It’s important to keep in mind that, while the common app allows you to self-report both your grades and test scores, most schools will want this information to be verified by an official transcript from your high school and an official test report from the testing company.
The education section also allows you to record any honors or awards you have earned, and you can describe your future plans if you already have an idea of your subject of interest. While it’s absolutely not necessary that applicants have their career path figured out, some students already know exactly where they are headed.
The testing section of the common app allows you to report your SAT/ACT scores as well as TOEFL and AP/IB test scores. Just remember to include an official report of these scores when you send your application.
The activities section is vitally important, and you should make sure to be as complete as possible. This section will allow you to report your activities as well as how long you have participated, how much time you spent participating, any honors or awards you have earned for participating, and whether you plan to continue participating in college.
The next section is the personal essay, and this is where a lot of students wonder if they should use the school’s application instead of the common app. Students can wrongly assume that their schools of choice will want an essay that answers a question specific to the school, but this isn’t really the case.
Personal essay topics are almost always intentionally broad because they need to give everyone the opportunity to answer the questions. So, you won’t likely see an application that demands an essay on the topic of: How has traveling impacted my worldview? This assumes that all students have the means to travel, which they do not. This question would be biased towards students who have come from privileged backgrounds.
Instead, the essay section of the common app gives you a number of choices of essay topics. They are broad and allow students to express their experiences and how these experiences have shaped them as people. Columbia University also asks applicants to answer some Columbia-specific questions about their background and experience.
In this section, you will also be asked for your disciplinary history, and you can add any additional information that you think will be relevant for college admissions officials. So, what other types of information should you include?
This section allows you to describe any information that you think is necessary for college admissions officers. This includes things like an illness that may have temporarily derailed your high school experience or other hardships that may have affected your grades or test scores.
Does Columbia use the common app?
We’ve already answered the question: does Columbia use the common app, but you also need to know how Columbia views the common app, and what other information Columbia will want from you.
Like many Ivy League schools, Columbia takes the common app. As far as Columbia is concerned, the common app is a useful tool to maximize your application potential, while giving you the free time to pursue your academics and other interests. You can use the common app, or you can use the Coalition Application powered by Scior. We’ll take about the Columbia Coalition application a little later in this post.
As we’ve discussed, the common application covers all of the relevant information that any school would want to know during the admissions process. Columbia, as well as many other schools, also require a supplemental section to accompany your common app. So, if you’ve been asking yourself: Does Columbia use the common app, the answer is yes, but you will still need to supply additional information.
Columbia and the common app
Columbia’s supplement to the common application includes some fairly standard components that other schools will likely also require. These components include Official transcripts from your high school, official score reports for standardized testing (optional), two letters of recommendation from teachers, your mid-year grade report, and your final semester grade report for students who have already been accepted. There is also an $85 application fee, though you can apply for an application fee waiver.
In addition to these materials, Columbia requires answers to supplemental application questions. The first question Columbia asks is about financial aid. Columbia, as well as most other colleges, has a need-blind admissions process, which means that your chances of admission are not based on your ability to pay tuition.
Columbia wants to know your financial aid situation at the time of your application so they can render a decision on your admission and financial aid offer at the same time. This is intended to help prospective students better plan for their financial aid needs.
The supplemental section asks applicants to answer a series of questions that are specific to Columbia university. They are mostly intended to give the admissions officers a better sense of you as a whole person. Here is a sampling of the questions you may be asked to answer:
For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. (For example, it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. No author names, subtitles, or explanatory remarks are needed.)
- List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories, or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
- We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)
There is then a section that requires short written answers. While these questions change from time to time, this is a sample of questions Columbia has used in the past:
- A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint, or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)
- Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)
- Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)
- In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)
How to write the best common app for Columbia?
As we’ve discussed, much of the common app is pretty straightforward. Since Columbia is on the common app, your job is made much easier, but putting together the perfect common app for Columbia can still be a challenge. Let’s take a look at how to write the best common app.
Many students wonder: does Columbia take the common app, and some of them are surprised to find that they do. But the most important part of writing your common app will be the essay section. Your personal information and transcript are already set in stone, so the essay is the place where you can really improve your chances of gaining admission.
As we’ve said, the common app gives you seven different essay topics to consider, and it can often be difficult for students to choose the right one for them. Students often wonder if there are specific topics that admissions officers prefer over others, but in reality, it’s more about what you do with the topic than the topic itself.
Tip #1: Choose the topic that is right for you
While you might be tempted to choose a topic that seems more challenging or impressive, the most important factor in choosing your topic is how well it fits with your lived experiences. Again, none of the topics are meant to be more “difficult” or more “impressive” to admissions officers.
In any given year admissions officers are going to see essays describing impressive experiences that are poorly written, and they’re going to see essays about mundane topics that are extraordinary. The goal is to do the best with what you have.
Admissions officers are much more interested in your insight and your point of view than the fact that you’ve had an extraordinary experience. They want to see how an experience has influenced the way you think and feel about the world. They want to see how an experience has changed the course of your life, or a passion that has consumed you. Ideally, you want to choose the topic that fits you story instead of trying to fit your story into the topic.
Tip #2: Plan your essay to be the right length
In general, the common app gives you a long range of 250 to 650 words for your personal essay. For some students, this seems like a lot of writing to do, while for others the upper limit may feel restrictive. Too often, students don’t think about this long range before they start writing. Some students end up with too few words, while others end up with far too many.
Most college admissions officers suggest a “sweet spot” of around 500 words for the ideal personal essay. That’s not a lot of space in which to tell your story, so you have to be efficient about how you construct your essay. This is why planning is so important.
Students often feel as though they can simply sit down and start writing their essays because they already have the story in their heads. This can lead to essays that are too long, too short, or disorganized. Instead, it’s a good idea to make a basic outline for your essay and break it into chunks.
You can start by deciding roughly how many words you want to devote to each section of the essay. Ideally, you will have a brief introduction in which you set up your basic thesis statement for the rest of the essay. You would then decide how many words to use for the body of the essay, and how many words you feel you need to conclude. Having this framework in place will allow you to stick to the essay guidelines without having to either trim down or beef up your essay.
Tip #3: Make your essay come alive with detail
College admissions officers are going to read thousands of essays each year. Some of them will be forgettable, while others will stand out. Your goal is to make sure that your essay is one of the ones they cannot forget.
Because so many students will write about similar topics, the goal is to make your essay stand out. The best way to do this is by making it as personal and unique as possible by imbuing it with as much detail as possible. For students worried that 650 words isn’t enough space to tell their story, details will make the difference between a top-notch essay and a forgettable essay.
This is how you set yourself apart. By going into as much detail as possible, you make your story unique from anyone else’s story. In order to prepare to do this, start with your topic and then go into depth about the subtle details of the story you are telling. This is what will make your essay feel truly personal.
Tip #4: Use your real voice
Chances are, you’ve written plenty of essays in high school, and most of these essays have to follow a familiar format, and they are generally written in a formal, academic voice. This is simply how we’re taught to write academic essays.
College essays are quite different though. While your first impulse might be to haul out your big, impressive vocabulary words, college admission officers aren’t generally impressed by this. Instead, they want to hear your real voice. Rather than making your essay sound academic and formal, focus on making your essay sound conversational and creative.
With this in mind, students need to understand that there are still some boundaries that need to be respected. Inappropriate or offensive language may be attention-grabbing, but it’s not what admissions officers want to see. They also don’t want to see tired clichés. This brings us to our next tip.
Tip #5: Get constructive criticism
No one likes to be criticized, but this essay is one of the most important ones you will ever write. So, it’s important to have people you trust read it and give you constructive feedback. The first things your reader can look for are the aforementioned tired clichés. If you find any, look for more creative wording.
So, from whom should you get feedback? The best resources for feedback are often your guidance counselor or your English teacher. Both of these people have read college essays before, and they know what to look for.
Because Columbia takes the common app, they require you to write an essay from the topic list, but they also require a supplemental essay that can be chosen from a list of Columbia-specific topics or you can choose your own topic. It’s important that you give this supplemental essay just as much attention as you would give the general essay.
The Columbia Coalition App
Does Columbia use the common app? Yes, but they also use a system called the Coalition app, and there is a specific Columbia Coalition app that you will find when you go to Columbia’s Apply page.
The Coalition App is accepted by around 150 colleges, and it allows you to manage your applications to multiple schools from a single dashboard. So, while Columbia does use the common app, the Coalition App may be a better option if you are applying to a number of schools within the Coalition system.
In general, the Coalition App is the same as the Columbia common app, but you will have to create an account for the Coalition system. Columbia also uses the Questbridge system that identifies high-achieving, low-income students and helps them with the application process.
So, if you’ve been wondering: Does Columbia use the common app, the answer is yes, and this will make your application experience notably easier. At AdmissionSight, our goal is to make the admissions process as easy and successful as possible. Navigating the common app and all of its nuances can be a challenge, but we have years of experience guiding students through the process. If you want to see how AdmissionSight can help you, book your free consultation today.