Application Types for College Admissions

Chase Yano
January 18, 2024

Applying to college is annoying. As my senior year approached, I remember dreading the impending tumult of personal essays, intricate financial aid applications, and anxiety waiting for decisions. But before I could even begin this process, I still had to answer the question: how and where do I actually do this? Today, I want to give you a quick rundown of the different application types that you should know about as a prospective college applicant (good news: there are only two!).

Common Application: The Most Common of the Application Types

Most people will use the Common App, a website that most top schools use to centralize the college application process; it is the most common (pun intended!) application type. Basically, on their website, you will complete a “common” application, including your contact information, a list of your extracurriculars and awards, and your personal statement. This application will go to every school which you apply to through Common App. When you decide to apply to a school on Common App, you will be able to search its name and add it to your list. Once it is on your list, you will have to fill out more information about yourself, usually including your prospective major and legacy status (whether or not anyone in your family has attended the school). You will also submit your supplemental essays and pay application fees on this page. Through Common App, you can submit applications to up to 20 schools.

QuestBridge: A Specialized Application

The second of the main application types is QuestBridge. In 1994, QuestBridge was created to connect exceptional low-income students with top-tier schools. According to the QuestBridge website, they are looking for those who fulfill the following criteria.

Academic Achievement:

Financial Qualification:

Personal Circumstances:

If this sounds like you, QuestBridge is an extremely worthwhile application type. QuestBridge has two notable programs for applicable individuals. The first is College Prep Scholars: a program for juniors that is essentially an award that qualifies you to attend the QuestBridge conference during the summer following your junior year. The College Prep Scholars application is completed during March of your junior year, and it serves as excellent preparation for the big fish, the QuestBridge National College Match. 

QuestBridge has an agreement with 40 top schools to participate in the College Match program. Basically, during the summer of your senior year, the National College Match application will open. The form collects the same information as the Common App and is due at the end of September. After you submit your application, you will rank up to 12 QuestBridge partner schools. Then, by mid-October, you will be notified whether you have been named a QuestBridge finalist. If you are a finalist, then your application will be submitted to the schools you ranked. At this point, the higher tier partner schools will require you to provide additional supplemental essays, due on November 1. At the beginning of December, QuestBridge will notify you whether you have been “matched.” You match with the highest-ranked school that accepts you. For example, if you ranked Hamilton College as your 3rd school and Princeton as your 7th school, even if both Hamilton and Princeton accept your application, you will be matched to Hamilton if neither your 1st or 2nd choices took you. If matched, you will receive the most compelling reward of the College Match program, a full-ride scholarship. If you're not matched, don’t fret; most aren't due to the program’s competitiveness. However, as a finalist, you will have the option to participate in QuestBridge Regular Decision, which essentially allows you to roll over your application to the regular application cycle as if you had used Common App, but for free. 

Note that applying with Questbridge and Common App aren’t mutually exclusive, and I’d recommend that Questbridge applicants apply to some number of schools on Common App during the Regular Decision period. If you aren’t matched in December, you should branch out and research schools outside of the Questbridge cohort to maximize your chances at finding a good fit. To learn even more about researching different schools, read our article on the top fit factors for college. You can also dive more deeply into different factors such as rural/suburban schools and liberal arts colleges vs big universities.

Other Application Types

There are other application types than Common App and Questbridge, such as Coalition App, but there is no reason to use them unless they are a school’s only option. Some schools, however, have their own application portal. For example, if you would like to apply to MIT, you have to use their MyMIT website, thus requiring you to get your teachers and counselors to fill out your letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.

If you have any questions about college application types, or the college admissions process in general, you can get in touch with a tutor at Dewey Smart! Dewey Smart has the Best College Application Tutors.

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