Written By - Bob Litt

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Dr. Carol Galanis

It can be hard and take a lot of time for students and their parents to apply to college. Teenagers may juggle their last year of high school, the SAT or ACT, college visits (if available), and applications to several schools. The Common App[1] is an undergraduate college admission form that candidates can use to send their applications to more than 1000 member institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, China, Japan, and many European countries. This makes the process easier. Even though many people use Common App, it may be hard for families new to the college application process to understand it. After reading this guide, parents and students will find it easy to use the app.

Common Application

Table Of Contents

What is The Common App?

Common App[1] is a non-profit organization of more than 1000 colleges and universities dedicated to lowering the barriers to college access by streamlining the college application process. To help students reach their goals, Common App is committed to:

  • Lowering the logistical and systemic barriers to college access
  • Supporting those who support students
  • Serving a diverse group of students and institutions
  • Leveraging data and insight to inform our member institutions

When Should You Start With The Common App?

Each year, the new version of the Common App goes live on August 1. There are different due dates for college applications, so you must pay close attention to when they must turn in their documents.

Some schools set November or December as the last day for students to apply for early action or decision. On the other hand, January 1 is usually the last day to apply for regular decisions. Prospective students should use these ranges as a guide and check with individual universities to confirm deadlines. You can start work on the Common App before August 1 by setting up an account.

Creating a Common App Account

You can create a Common App account even if you don’t intend to apply for several months or years. You can make a college list anytime by responding to the questions on the Common App tab. The following are the steps you must take:

  • Create an account and indicate what type of student you are.
  • Create new login credentials. Colleges may need to contact you during application, so choose your email address wisely. Consider using a personal email account because your high school address sometimes filters these emails out.
  • Fill in all of the required registration fields:
    • Some basic information about you includes your name, address, phone number, and birthdate.
    • Your legal name should appear exactly as it does on all official school correspondence and assessments. Colleges can ensure that documents belong to the correct person by doing so.

The summer before your senior year is an excellent time for you to begin working on your applications.

Although you are not required to submit applications during the summer, starting in August allows you to research the prerequisites for the schools you are interested in, write essays, and complete some of the tedious background work before you become overburdened with assignments and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, starting early allows you to receive the assistance you require at the start of the academic year.

The Common App Application Process

  • Collect materials: Completing your application takes time. It can take much longer if you stop frequently to look for information, such as a certificate for a continuing education course or the location of a previous internship. Gather this information or documents before you begin to give yourself a head start.
  • Create an Account: A Common App account can be quickly and easily created. You can still create an account even if you are not applying for a few months or years. You can build a college list anytime by answering questions in the Common App tab.
  • Add Colleges: Once you’ve created an account and researched the colleges that accept the Common App, you can add them.
  • Engage Supporters: Official school forms are required by all universities. Many universities may also require recommendation letters. Counselors, teachers, and recommenders will fill out these forms on your behalf. 
  • Underst the Requirements: It is critical to become acquainted with each college’s application requirements and adhere strictly to them when applying.
  • Plan the Essay: Essay writing can sometimes feel like the most crucial aspect of your application. You can manage this activity more effectively with some planning, organizing, and drafting.
    Submit the Application: The submission process consists of three steps: reviewing your application, paying the application fee (if applicable), and submitting your application.

How Long Does it Take to Fill Out the Common App?

As you can see from the preceding components, implementing the Common App is a lengthy process. However, the time required to complete an application varies depending on the school’s needs. It’s best to give yourself at least six weeks to collect everything you need for college applications. That gives you two weeks to complete any background forms and a month to collect the rest of the paperwork.

It is important to note that many colleges require first-year students to submit reference letters and transcripts in addition to any optional parental information requested, such as employer information and educational background. Students must give professors and counselors enough time to upload such documents to the common app before deadlines.
High School Counselors[3] advise students to ask their professors for recommendation letters before the end of their junior year so that teachers can complete them over the summer. Seniors who need reference letters should request them as early in the academic year as possible.

What are the Typical ‘Common App’ Essay Prompts?

It is always a good idea to look at the previous year’s essay prompts[4] to get an idea of what the prompts for the current year will be. Students, counselors, professors, and admissions officers usually agree that prompts inspire effective essays. 

It is critical to remember that prompts are not topics. They are only provocative questions. Students may be told how much freedom they have in what they write through prompts[5].

The full list of essay topics for 2023-2024 is provided below. The Additional Information section will still include the optional COVID-19 question[6].

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Source: As listed by the Common App

How Do You Navigate the Common App and Questions That May Be Asked

Students who require assistance completing their application can speak with their high school counselors or admissions professionals at the institutions they are applying to. Various resources are available on the Common App to assist with the application process.

In addition to video tutorials throughout the program, the platform offers year-round, 24-hour technical support. Applicants can submit questions or receive answers to frequently asked questions in the Student Solutions Center. Common App representatives say the average wait time is 20 minutes (but response times vary).

How Much Does The Common App Cost?

Common App data shows over 475 member institutions do not charge an application fee for first-year students; the application is free[7]. Several other members charge anywhere from $30 to $100 for application processing. However, if you have paid an application fee, you can apply for a fee waiver through the Common App. Apart from Common App’s fee waiver, you can also speak with your high school counselors or directly with the universities you are applying to check whether you are eligible for their fee waiver.

How to Easily Fill The Common App

Always apply early; do not wait until the last minute to apply. Along with getting started early, you should take advantage of the Common App preview, which allows you to double-check your applications before submitting them.

The Common App for Recommenders

You can use the Common App for recommenders[8] to organize and submit letters of recommendation. This page manages your school’s data, tracks requests, and uploads transcripts. On the first-year Common App, recommenders have more options for tracking students’ Common App progress.

You may request that teachers, counselors, or advisors serve as more than one recommender on your application, such as a teacher and another recommender. After you add them to your application, an email invitation with a link to register for an account will be sent to the recommender. Recommenders can decline an invitation or use paper forms instead if they prefer. Alternatively, they can log in and begin working on their recommender forms. The Common App’s recommender types are as follows:

First-Year Recommender Types

  • Counselor 
  • Teacher 
  • Other Recommender 
  • Advisor 

Transfer Recommender Types

  • High School Official 
  • Academic 
  • Personal
  • Professiona

Is Common App the Only Way to Get Into College?

No. Students are not required to use only the Common App for college admission. Despite its popularity, the platform is not the only one available for college applications. You can also apply to various colleges online by visiting their websites. When applying to them, they can or must use the application processes of some states. Texas, for example, has a statewide application system; however, some Texas schools also accept the Common App.

Some schools accept the Coalition Application[9], and historically Black colleges and universities use the Common Black College Application[10] as an additional submission method. Still, many schools that use these platforms also use the Common App.

Which Application Platform is the Best to Apply for College?

Colleges that accept different platforms for application submission do not favor one over the other, but high school guidance counselors may. Because of Common App’s integration with Naviance[11], a company that produces software for college and job readiness, counselors can easily submit supporting materials for universities. You should, however, only submit one application to each college, using whichever platform works best for you.
If you are a transfer student[12], you must submit additional information from your university. Transfer applicants are asked to list any colleges or universities they have attended, in addition to their enrollment dates, college coursework credentials, and GPA. They must also submit an essay.

Find Your Master’s Program

Start Your Next Step Today

Let’s help you find the right online master’s degree. You can browse through thousands of schools and their online programs. Start exploring the top 20 best online master’s programs now.