How Does the Common App Work + 10 Other FAQs

March 1, 2021
By AdmissionSight
Female student holding a folder in a room with her classmates.

How Does the Common App Work + 10 Other FAQs

Anyone who said applying to college was easy either never tried or was joking. There’s no doubt that preparing an application for the standard college admissions process is a demanding experience. When you raise the stakes by applying to an Ivy League school, the challenge is taken to the next level.

Students who are entering into their senior years might start asking specific questions about the admission process to make sure they understand everything correctly. Perhaps one of the most common questions among this group is: how does the Common App work?

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If you’ve been conducting any research related to college admissions, you most likely have come across the term “Common App.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it simply stands for Common Application and – as the name suggests – refers to a popular platform that students can use when reaching out to schools they want to attend.

In fact, over 900 schools accept the Common Application, even some universities outside of the United States recognize it. This application is designed to optimize an integral portion of the college admission process. It’s something both students and admissions officers can benefit from.

With the Common Application platform, students are able to fill out one application and send it to a number of universities quickly and easily. This allows students to save valuable time from having to fill out key information (addresses, names, dates, etc.) that all colleges will ask for more than once.

Some specific information might vary between each university, but the Common Application keeps students from having to waste time and energy on filling out completely separate applications for each school. Both first-year applicants and transfer students are eligible to use this program.

High school students in this position aren’t just thinking about how to put their best foot forward to increase their chances of getting into the best school possible, but they’re also dealing with standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and high school courses. All of these responsibilities pull a student’s limited attention and time in a different direction. According to the Common Application’s CEO, Jenny Rickard, “the idea behind the Common App is to try and reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college.”

Although the Common App is widely recognized amongst the country’s top universities, some students and parents still have key questions about what it is, how to use it, and who’s eligible for it. Here, we’ll tackle these questions one-by-one to give you a better idea of why this program is so popular and how it can help you increase your chances of getting into the Ivies.

10 FAQs on the Common App

How does the Common App work?

The Common App is a relatively straightforward concept. As the name suggests it’s a single application that students can fill out and use when applying to a variety of different universities. While it’s not feasible or recommendable to apply to too many schools, the Common App is accepted by over 900 universities. As a result, the number of schools you could send this application to is relatively endless.

Similar to other common practices in the college admission process, an organization found a way to streamline a rather tedious portion of the process for students and college started catching on. Fast forward to today, and the Common App is one of the most common applications accepted among universities in the United States.

When does the Common App open?

Every year, a new version of the Common Application is released. It officially opens up for use on August 1st of each year. Some of the adjustments this year involved the addition of enhanced filter and search functionalities, roughly 40 schools to the overall list of universities, a step-by-step tutorial for new users, more in-depth details about certain colleges, and a question regarding the recent pandemic and how students were impacted.

It’s an optional question with a limit of 250 words. Although the updated Common App isn’t ready until August, you don’t need to wait until then to begin. You can set up an account on the website whenever you want, start filling out the application, and simply transfer your information when the updated application is released.

What’s the process of signing up like?

In order to make use of the Common App, you’ll need to have an account on the website. Fortunately, it’s super easy to use. All you have to do is visit CommonApp.org, click “Apply Now”, and follow the detailed instructions on how to create a profile. Next, you’ll need to log into the application through the same platform in order to get started. If you want a handy way to stay on top of your application and all associated deadlines, it’s advisable to get the Common Application’s mobile app on your phone. You can even set reminders to make sure you don’t miss important dates and information.

When should I start Common App?

Generally speaking, starting the Common App in the summer right before the final year of high school is ideal. Many experts agree that this leaves sufficient time for filling out the application without being too early to make sense. Although applicants don’t need to turn in a completed application in the summer, beginning in August allows students the opportunity to double-check the admissions requirements for each of the schools they wish to attend.

Getting started a little early also provides enough time for applicants to write rough drafts on their essays and collect more detailed information before it becomes difficult to manage the many demands of the college admissions process as the deadlines grow closer. Furthermore, this headstart furnishes applicants with enough time to determine if they need additional help to fill out their applications from a professional college admissions counselor.

How long does the average student take to complete the Common App?

There are a variety of variables that determine how long it will take a student to fill out the Common App. Although there is some overlap, each school has different requirements. When you add to that the fact that each student works at a different pace, you have a better idea of why it’s tough to nail down an exact time estimate for finishing the Common App. Still, it’s a good idea to give yourself around six weeks to complete a college application. The first two weeks can be used to complete the general background info while the last month is used to collect all required documentation.

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The background information required by Ivy Leagues includes details such as your name, birthdate, work history, academic background, etc. However, in addition to this more basic info that you don’t have to spend much time searching for, many universities require applicants to apply with high school transcripts, recommendation letters, and other documents that have to be collected.

It’s vital that students begin this process early in order to give high school counselors, teachers, and other professionals sufficient time to help organize and deliver these documents before the Common App deadline. We’d suggest asking for your letters of recommendation near the end of your junior year in high school so you provide them with the entire summer to work on them. If you’re already a senior, ask as soon as the school year begins.

What essay prompts are on the Common App?

If you’re wondering “how does the Common App work?” you’re definitely also curious about what kind of essay prompts are included on this application. For first-year applicants of the 2020-2021 school year, the exact same seven prompts that were used for the previous school year will be present this time around as well. According to the Common App official site “The current prompts do their job well.” Each essay has a 650-word limit that students should aim to reach as writing something too short can come across negatively with admissions counselors.

There are a variety of topics present on the Common App. Some require applicants to think about their own unique experiences and describe the lessons they’ve learned along the way and ways in which they’ve grown personally. Applicants can also choose to write an essay involving any topic they choose. This essay prompts can easily be found on the official website of the Common App. Every other year, the organization reconsiders the essay topics to determine their relevance and suitability at the time.

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Although there are seven different prompts, applicants only have to complete one. While the topics do vary greatly, many students begin to wonder if the prompt they choose will make a difference. In reality, the only thing that matters is how you answer the prompt, not which one you choose. However, this makes it critical for students to choose the best prompt that allows them to offer a view into who they are as an individual. Providing glimpses about what makes you unique is a great strategy for making these prompts your own and capturing the attention of Ivy League admissions officers.

When you’re writing the Common App essay, you want to make sure you’re not repeating everything that’s already been covered in other areas of the application. Some important questions to keep in mind when filling out this essay prompts are: What makes you unique? What’s something people find interesting about you? How can you differentiate yourself from other first-year applicants?

Pro Tip: While it’s common among colleges to require a Common App essay, not all universities do. Some schools require a supplemental essay or other pieces of information instead. Before you put time and energy into filling out one of these prompts, be sure to check the specific requirements for the school you wish to attend.

What happens if I experience problems on the Common App?

If you have any technical issues with the Common App, you can reach out to the site’s technical support which is available around the clock and throughout the week. There’s even a frequently asked questions section in addition to a page where you can submit your own question. Although the response time will vary between each question, you usually shouldn’t have to wait more than 20-30 minutes. If you have a more general question about college applications overall, you can always reach out to a high school counselor, admissions officers, or a college admissions specialist like Admission Sight.

What schools are on the Common App?

One of the most important questions following “how does the Common App work?” is about the number of schools that accept it. After all, you don’t want to end up spending months filling out an application only to realize the school of your choice doesn’t recognize it. Fortunately, for the vast majority of applicants, there’s a high chance their desired schools accept the Common App. After all, over 900 schools currently use it. While we won’t be able to list out each of the universities here, you can search for colleges using the Common App site to determine if the school of your dreams accepts it or not.

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For those students who have set their sights on the Ivy League, you’ll be pleased to know that each of the eight universities in this elite group recognizes the Common App. Just in case you’re not familiar with the Ivies, that includes: Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and Brown.

Is the Common App free?

Students and parents will both be pleased to know that the Common App is totally free. That’s one less hidden college admissions fee that you have to worry about. In addition, nearly half of schools that are members of the Common App don’t even charge fees on their application for first-year applicants. Of course, universities that have their own application fee will end up charging these to the student even if the Common App is accepted. This fee is typically handled when students submit their applications.

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If the application fee is an issue, some schools offer fee waivers for students that meet standards set up by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. You can let universities know about this when filling out the Common App. After a student is able to demonstrate that their financial difficulties make them eligible for the fee waiver, this will be applied to the school to which they’re applying.

Do I have to fill out the Common App?

No conversation about how does the Common App work is complete without talking about whether or not it’s required. Despite being one of the most popular and widely accepted platforms of its kind, students are not required to use the Common App. In fact, it’s not the only one available. Still, many universities let first-year applicants apply directly through an admissions website.

Other states even have their own dedicated application systems students must use when applying to universities. Texas, for example, has a system that sends applications across the state. However, some universities in the state still accept the Common App. Some other popular platforms recognized and accepted by universities include the Universal College Application and the Coalition Application. It’s always important to check with a school beforehand to determine which applications they accept and even which they prefer.

Get more advice on college admissions, even to top-tier schools!

The Common App is just one piece of the much larger and sometimes complicated admissions puzzle. Whether you’re in your senior year or just entering high school, you and your parents might already be looking for ways to secure you a spot in the college of your choice.

One of the best ways to help increase your chances of getting admitted into high-level universities is to work with a college admissions counselor. These experts specialize in offer tips and services designed to help students get into the college of their dreams.

AdmissionSight is one such expert with years of experience and proven success getting students into the top Ivy League schools in the country. Whether you need help determining the best high school courses to take or you need guidance on your supplemental essays, we have professional services and insider-knowledge to help. Better yet, all of our services are completely personalized to make sure your strengths, personal interests, and future goals are being taken into account. After all, it’s all about your future and making sure you have the best opportunities available.

Feel free to contact AdmissionSight to learn more about what we offer and how it can help you.

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