What is the Common Application for College? Which Schools Use It?

Thursday, November 07, 2019
Common College Application

College application season can be a stressful time for both students and parents. Often, students are applying to multiple colleges at once, and sometimes, each college requires a different application. 

The Common Application, typically referred to as the “Common App,” allows students to apply to multiple schools at once, using just one application. This allows for much more ease for students applying to more than one college during application season.


What is the Common Application?

The Common App is an application platform for students seeking higher education, either for the first time or as transfer students, in which students can apply to multiple colleges simultaneously. 

Using the Common App, students fill out information most colleges require like name, address, extracurricular activities lists, SAT/ACT scores, and parental employment and education, and even submit one major personal statement, or essay, for many different colleges that accept the Common App.

The Common App opens August 1st each year, but students can start the application at any time and transfer information when the new version opens. To start the process, students simply visit CommonApp.org and click on the “Apply Now” button. The site will walk students through the process of creating an account and show them how to work on their application through the Common App platform. The site even offers tutorial videos to help students through the process.

The Common App also has a mobile application that allows students to set reminders, keep track of deadlines, and invite people to submit letters of recommendations for their application. 


Common App Essay 

Though many schools require supplemental materials in addition to the Common App, the Common App covers most of the main parts of the application and also allows students to write one major essay to apply to multiple schools. 

Generally, there are seven different Common App essay prompts from which students can choose to inspire their essay. No matter which prompt students choose, they should choose one that allows them to reveal new information that admissions officers will not learn from other parts of the application.

The Common App allows students up to 650 words to submit their major personal statement. Students should usually follow similar essay tips and advice as they would follow for scholarship applications or other applications that use personal statements. 

The Common App essay should reveal details about the student that highlight the student’s strengths and demonstrate how the student has grown to get to this point. Often, application essays forecast the way a student will be able to interact at a college or university and what the student will uniquely bring to a college campus community.


Why Do Schools Use the Common Application?

Schools typically use the Common App to decrease barriers to entry for students applying to college. Since applications can take six weeks or more to complete–with requesting and acquiring letters of recommendation, gathering transcripts and financial information, and writing personal statements–the prospect of completing multiple applications in the months before college application deadlines can be overwhelming. 

The Common Application allows students to apply to more than one college or university using one application, usually with just a few additions if schools require specific information. Using the Common App also allows different schools to streamline the information they require from students and helps students know what to expect when they prepare to apply to college each year.

Moreover, the Common App is free to use, and over 40% of the schools that use it do not charge application fees. However, if a school does charge an application fee, students will pay that fee when they submit their application. This makes the process hopefully more affordable for students, eliminating one more barrier to entry when it comes to college applications. Students with financial hardship can also qualify for fee waivers and make that need clear as they fill out the Common Application.


Which Schools Use the Common Application?

Students using the Common App have nearly 900 schools to choose from, and at least one college in every state–except North Dakota--accepts the Common App. Beyond the United States, over 50 international universities from 18 different countries accept the Common App as well.

All eight Ivy League schools accept the Common App: 

  • Brown
  • Columbia
  • Cornell
  • Dartmouth
  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale

Other top schools that accept the Common App include: 

  • Stanford 
  • Caltech
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Northwestern
  • University of Chicago
  • Rice
  • Vanderbilt

On the Common App website, students can find a complete list of schools that accept the Common App


Advice for Using the Common Application

Start Early

The number one piece of advice for students using the Common App when applying to colleges is to start the application as early as possible. Students who are not traveling or busy during the summer are advised to start right when the application opens August 1st.

Since the process takes some time, and students have to wait for letters of recommendation from educators, employers, or mentors, they should make sure they have at least six weeks, or more, to finish the Common Application.


Seek Support

Students should also seek support if they need it while working on the Common App. The Common App has 24/7 technical support students can call if they run into any technical issues, for example.

Meanwhile, students should ask their guidance counselors, parents, teachers, high school honor societies, and other mentors for help with their application, from the letters of recommendation to the personal statement. 

There are plenty of online resources for students as well, from advice articles to more formal help with application essays. For example, students can visit the website Prompt.com, either through their guidance counselor or as individuals, to get help from essay specialist on their Common Application essay.



While filling out the Common App, students should allow their strengths and unique qualities to shine through their application. From the activities list to the personal statement, students have the chance to let various schools get to know them through the Common App.

Happy applying to all the prospective college students out there!