What is the Common App?

Ashley Thommana
June 30, 2024

The Common App is a centralized tool for college applications used by high school seniors across the country. Understanding its purpose, organization, and utility during the college admissions process is extremely valuable in a smooth and successful application cycle.

Why Does A Centralized Application Exist?

Every college you apply to as a high school student has a list of requirements for what is part of your package and application. For example, schools may want some or all of the following pieces of information:

Since many schools require or would like to review similar information in their admissions process, a centralized application portal much like the Common App can reduce the burden of re-entering and retyping this information for each school. 

The Common App Set-up

The Common App allows students to add up to 20 schools that they are interested in applying to in the portal. Each school is accompanied by a school specific application that includes additional writing supplements, questions about major interests, and more. 

Furthermore, the Common App has a separate tab where you can fill out a general profile. In this general profile, there are a set of several questions to answer, regarding your school, grades, standardized test scores, and more. There is also a section for listing your extracurriculars and writing a personal statement. 

When your application is ultimately submitted to a school, schools can pick and choose information from the general profile to import with the rest of your application. Many will take your personal statement, general information, and more. 

The Common App can also be connected to other tools your high school may use. For example, many high schools use Naviance as a portal to submit transcripts and teacher/counselor letters of recommendation. This can be done using the unique Common App identifier created with your application to link these two portals. 

Using the Common App to Organize Your Applications

The Common App also has other utilities that can be helpful in the college application process. For example, it generates an organizer for all the schools you have added to your dashboard with important information on applications deadlines and requirements. In this organizer, it lists:

Other Application Methods

Importantly, the Common Application is not the only way to apply to universities. And, not all universities can be applied to through the Common App. For example, all of the University of California (UC) campuses like UCLA, UC Berkeley, etc. are not found on the Common App. They have their own portal.

In fact, most schools also have their own portal, meaning that you can apply to them directly. This requires you to enter all the general information a school might require like your activities, contact information, and more along with the school-specific essays. If they aren’t found on the Common App, though, applying through a school’s portal might be the only way to apply to that university.

Furthermore, there are other centralized application tools. For example, another tool much like the Common App is Coalition for College. This portal also serves a similar, centralized purpose.

As you are making your college list and planning your application cycle, be sure to identify how a school accepts applications (Common App vs. Coalition vs. school-specific portal). 

Creating a Common App Account & Getting a Head Start

Universities release their new prompts and applications on August 1st through the Common App. However, you can create an account on the Common App prior to August 1st and start filling in the general profile of the portal. This information can be kept in the system even after the schools update their prompts. 

Filling out the information before August 1st and getting a good look at the way the Common App is set up is a great step to a smoother application process. The Common App is set up to allow students to capitalize on this head start. For example, the personal statement prompts for this year have also already been released. This means you can get started on your personal statement during the summer, and work with your Dewey Smart admissions counselors to brainstorm and craft a strong essay. 

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