About half of college freshman in 2017 applied to at least five schools before enrolling, according to a Niche survey.
That’s a lot of applications calling for the same personal information, high school transcripts, and other materials.
You could save time by using the Common Application. Also known as the Common App, it allows you to apply to as many as 20 schools by entering your details and documents just once.
What is the Common App?
Started in 1975, the Common App claims that nearly 1 million students complete 4 million-plus college applications on its platform each year. The nonprofit organization allows those students to choose from over 750 schools across 48 states, plus Washington, D.C., and 14 foreign countries.
If you’re a high school or college transfer student, you can navigate the platform with or without the help of a parent, teacher, or mentor. It provides an application dictionary and virtual counselor videos. So, you won’t have to know everything about things like your expected family contribution before completing the application.
Much of your work, such as building a college list and writing essays, will be done off the platform. Having those tasks done ahead of time limits how long it will take you to complete the Common App.
Despite the large amount of colleges and universities using the Common App to select their next freshman class, not all schools use it. For example, while you can find the University of Arizona in the application, you won’t find its rival, Arizona State University.
So, your first step to using the Common App is ensuring it’s worth using at all. You can explore the 750-plus public and private schools by region or search by a school’s name, state, or other characteristics.
3 steps to completing the Common Application
Once you know that at least some of your safety, target, or reach schools accept the Common App, follow these three steps to complete the process.
1. Create your account and gather your documents
The easiest task comes first. To create your Common App account, you’ll need to enter basic information about yourself, including whether you’re a first-year or transfer student. This whole process took me about five minutes to complete.
When you’re done, you’ll be assigned a Common App ID (CAID) and land on your dashboard page. There, you can begin answering questions across these six categories:
- Profile: Much of this will be pulled in from the account creation process
- Family: Basic information about your household, parents, and siblings
- Education: Detail your high school record, including grades, as well as the degree and career you’re seeking
- Testing: Report your scores for exams like the SAT and ACT
- Activities: Add information about your extracurriculars to highlight outside interests
- Writing: Input a personal essay or complete the Common App essay, a 650-word response to one of seven prompts
The platform recommends gathering your documents before filling in these six sections. But feel free to browse through them. Information or documents you might need include:
- High school transcripts
- Details of your extracurricular activities
- College entrance exam dates and scores
- Information about your parent or legal guardian
2. Add your schools and understand their requirements
Before completing any part of the Common Application, particularly the writing section, it’s best to add your preferred schools. Using the platform’s college search function, you can find schools based on their application fees, essay requirements, or other criteria. More likely, you’ll be coming to the Common App with your college list already in hand.
To add schools to your dashboard, you’ll check a box next to their name and click “Add.” Afterward, each of these selected schools’ application deadlines, fees, and requirements will appear on the “My Colleges” tab of your dashboard.
Each school’s requirements will also pop up at various times once you begin filling out the application. Before you reach the Common App essay, for example, you’ll be shown whether your college choices require a personal essay.
The platform will also alert you to upcoming application deadlines for each school. If you want to keep tabs on your applications on paper, you can print out this requirements tracker.
3. Start the application and submit your Common App essay
Once you’ve gathered your information and documents, as well as your list of schools, you’ll be ready to work through the six sections of the application itself.
Some of the half-dozen categories will be easier to complete than others. You can work at your own pace; you can save and close out of in-progress sections.
Don’t gloss over the basics of seemingly easier sections. In the profile section, for example, you’ll be asked whether you might qualify for an application fee waiver. During the 2016-2017 application year, nearly 1 million students received fee waivers to cut about $55 million in costs, according to the Common App.
You might think the writing section will take the longest to finish. It should actually be the quickest — as long as you have your Common App essay written ahead of time in Microsoft Word or another word processor. If you type your essay into the section’s text box, you risk losing your work.
Planning makes essay writing less of a burden. The Common App provides its essay prompts in advance, giving you time to brainstorm, outline, write, and proofread. It also offers Google Drive integration, allowing you to upload documents to the platform.
Given the breadth of the application, you might not complete it in one sitting. But your dashboard will keep you updated on your progress. Yellow circles, for example, mean that your work hasn’t yet been submitted to schools.
Complete your Common App today
Instead of filling in the same information on multiple college applications, you can take the Common App’s batch approach. Besides saving time, you might also save money by discovering you qualify for application fee waivers.
So, as long as two or more of the schools on your college list use the Common App, you can save time by giving it a try. Then, you can move onto the more fun stuff — like finding out if you’ll gain admission to your favorite school.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 4/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.24% – 13.24%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.07% – 11.32%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 11.35%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|6.08% – 7.22%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|