Getting in with the Common App


You’ve been through the college fairs, walked through countless manicured quads, and put up with nightly lectures from your parents about making a wise decision. Now your list of three prospective colleges has suddenly tripled. So do you apply to every college individually or send the same application to all your schools and hope for the best?

What is the Common Application?

The Common Application can be found at and is a quick way to apply to nearly 300 participating colleges. It saves you a lot of time because you don’t have to go to each individual school website, download its application, and fill in your personal information and achievements over and over. There’s no charge for using the service, and all the supplements and payment methods required by individual colleges are included. “All in one” means you must submit the supplement and the Common App simultaneously.

The bad news is that if your college doesn’t require a formal essay and at least one letter of recommendation, it can’t take part in the Common App program. So if you’re applying to a state or community college, you’re out of luck.  

The Common App vs. College-Specific Submissions

Using the Common App instead of the one found on the college’s website will NOT hurt your chances of admission at all. It’s a win-win situation – the highly selective school gets more applications and you save time. Some colleges actually prefer the Common App. You can also write different essays for each school that you’re applying to.

So if you could just kill three birds with one stone, why bother taking a different route? Well, it can get kind of confusing for the neurotic among us to keep going back and forth between the Common App website and the college’s website to see if all requirements have been completed. In fact it’s always a good idea to call the admissions office after you’ve completed all the necessary paperwork and ask them if there’s anything else you need, just to be safe.

Unfortunately, something that might actually hurt your chances is if you’re applying for financial aid in a need-aware school, where applicants who do not need assistance are preferred over those who do (assuming both have the same qualifications.) Luckily, most highly-selective schools are need-blind, so the applicant’s financial aid form will be processed completely separately from the actual application, and won’t affect your chances at all. Recently, lots of colleges have been switching from need-blind to need-aware and vice versa. To find out which method a school currently uses, just Google “name of school” and “need blind” or “need aware” and you’ll get your answer, either from a recent article or the school website itself.  

Submit your application only online

Ignore your parents’ urges to mail in the application in addition to submitting it online. Although this tactic works when applying for an internship, it can actually slow down your application process and hurt your chances. If an admissions officer is having a bad day and gets a double application, it may look to them like you can’t follow directions. The instructions state that you should submit it online OR mail it in, not both. And do you really want to go through all the trouble of printing, stapling, and writing neatly?

Whatever you do….

  • Remember important application deadlines such as Early Decision, Early Action, and the general deadline for every school by making a note of them on your cell phone or email calendar. The deadline to submit supplements is often before the actual Common App deadline.
  • Get in the habit of saving your work every 15 minutes.
  • Log out after each session—especially if you’re using a public computer.


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