The Admissionado Guide To The Common App

There was a time when college applicants had to fill out separate, individual applications for every school on their list. (Ugh, what a drag.) Thankfully, in 1975, the Common Application was born, and the whole process of applying to college got a looooooot more streamlined. Even though the organization started out with only 15 schools, more and more have signed up to join the Common App every year, and it is now VERY popular. In fact, if you’re applying to schools in the U.S., there’s a good chance you’re going to get up close and personal with the Common App. Before you do, though, here’s a crash course in what it is and what it means for you.

What exactly is it?

A college admission application that students can fill out and submit to any of 488 member institutions (and counting!) that are currently accepting it.

Who uses it?

Any college or university that uses a holistic evaluation process can use the Common App. (Many of the best and most prestigious American schools do).

What is a “holistic” evaluation process?

This means that the adcoms consider subjective criteria (personal essays, letters of recommendation, larger issues of campus diversity, etc.) as well as objective criteria (grades and test scores) when evaluating your application.

Most American schools evaluate purely in terms of objective criteria, so this is special. Why? Because it can help you as an applicant. If they’re judging your application in terms of WHO you are and WHAT you do, not only HOW high your scores are, they’re taking many more factors into consideration, which gives you many more chances to SHINE. (Hint: “HOL-is-tic” means trying to get a sense of the person as a WHOLE, not just their stats on paper. That’s a good way to remember it, and better for you. You’re not just a 2-D piece of paper, right?? You’re a WHOLE person.)

Why use the Common App?

As mentioned above, it really encourages holistic evaluation, which is great news for you. Also, it reeeeeally streamlines the process of applying to college (key word: COMMON), and makes the whole thing a lot easier for you. By filling out one Common App which multiple schools accept, you eliminate a lot of the busywork and repetition of filling out the same info for every school separately (ex: your background info, test scores, etc.).

Some people ask us if there are any disadvantages of using the Common App, or if it looks better to apply to a school using their own individual application instead of the Common App. The answer? Absolutely not. It’s there to help you. If someone gave you the choice of making your life easier or harder, what would you choose?

Yeah. That’s what we thought.

What’s required for the Common App?

  • Personal data (name, address, birthday…).
  • Educational data (info about your school, classes…).
  • Standardized test info (SAT, AP, ACT scores…).
  • Family info (info about your family members and their education…).
  • Academic honors (awards, honor societies…).
  • Extracurricular activities (clubs, teams, hobbies…).
  • Work experience (jobs, internships…).
  • Very short answer essay (asking you to elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities/work experiences).
  • A longer personal essay (250-500 word essay about yourself. Choose one of six very vague topics, including “topic of your choice.” You can basically tell whatever story you want about yourself, but make sure it focuses on you and paints a clear picture of who you are…more on that later).
  • Disciplinary history.

What’s missing from the Common App?

  • The individual school’s supplement. (All schools have supplements to the common app that ask you more specific questions about their school. These often contain an additional essay, short answers, some sort of question asking you why you want to go to that specific school and why you think you’ll succeed there. This is your chance to show them why you’ll fit right in at their school, and why you deserve to be accepted. Don’t hold back, folks).
  • Financial aid info (This should be submitted separately, later in the year).
  • Application fees for different schools.
  • Additional art, music, writing samples (Optional. Only send these artistic supplements if you’re very serious about your work in this subject, and you think it will showcase your talent and make your application even stronger).

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