Common application

Common App: A Comprehensive Guide

The process of applying to graduate school can be overwhelming and time-consuming for both students and parents. With various tasks to balance, such as SAT exams, school visits, challenging senior year courses, and paperwork, it can be a stressful experience. However, the Common App offers a streamlined solution to simplify the application process for students.

While the Common App is widely used, some families who are unfamiliar with the college application process may find it confusing. This blog serves as a comprehensive guide to help parents and students navigate the Common App more effectively.

Understanding the Common App

The Common App is a non-profit organization that partners with over 900 higher education institutions. Their mission is to support students in achieving their goals by providing statistical information, assisting those who help students, removing administrative barriers to college entry, and offering services to various groups and students.

The website allows students to apply to multiple universities simultaneously, eliminating the need to fill out repetitive paperwork for each school. The required information typically includes the student’s name, location, and social activities.

How It Works

Here are the steps to follow when applying through the Common App:

1. Visit and access the application information by clicking on the “Start your application” tab. Students can also use the Common App mobile app for reminders, recommender contact, and deadline tracking.

2. Select either the transfer student or first-year student option.

3. Provide personal details, including name, phone number, email, birthdate, location, and desired registration year.

4. Complete the personal profile section with required information such as household details, demographics, extracurricular activities, and education.

5. Add recommenders who can provide supporting materials or letters of reference, such as professors or mentors.

6. Browse and add colleges to the “My Schools” section.

7. Familiarize yourself with the application guidelines for each institution and follow them during the registration process.

Latest Common App Essay Prompts

For the 2023-2024 application cycle, the Common App essay prompts are as follows:

1. Reflect on a moment when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

2. 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.

3. Write an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or your own design.

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written or one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Note that not all educational institutions require essays from their students. Some colleges may request a supplementary essay. Students can check the requirements for each institution on the Common App website or through their student accounts.

Colleges and Universities Embracing the Common App

Over 950 colleges and universities, including Ivy League institutions, public universities, and some international schools, accept the Common App as a market leader in college admission procedures. Here are a few renowned universities that accept the Common App:

– Brown University
– Northwestern University
– Yale University
– University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
– Vanderbilt University
– Columbia University
– University of Minnesota Twin Cities
– University of Chicago
– Johns Hopkins University
– Cornell University
– Harvard University
– Dartmouth College
– Princeton University
– Stanford University
– Duke University
– University of Pennsylvania
– Arizona State University
– The Ohio State University

Note that some institutions may have their own application systems alongside the Common App, so it’s important to check each school’s website for specific application details.

How the Common App Works for Transfer Students

The Common App transfer section functions similarly to the application process for first-time applicants, with a few exceptions. More than 800 institutions accept the Common App for transfer students.

Transfer students are required to provide additional details about the colleges they previously attended. The Common Application form prompts them to indicate the name of the college, admission dates, and courses taken.

Transfer students are also expected to submit an essay.

Disadvantages of Using the Common App

Like any product, the Common App has advantages and disadvantages. Here are some potential drawbacks to consider:

1. Easy to Apply to Too Many Colleges:
While the Common App allows for easy application submission to over 1000 institutions, it’s important not to apply to every single one. It’s crucial to conduct thorough research and apply to colleges that align with your requirements and goals.

2. Limited Personalization:
Applying to multiple schools simultaneously through the Common App may limit a student’s ability to convey their interest in a specific program or institution. This can make it challenging for admissions committees to assess a student’s fit within a particular college.

3. Data Privacy Concerns:
As the Common App collects applicants’ confidential data, there is a possibility of data breaches or privacy issues. The organization has implemented a privacy policy and takes precautions to protect applicant data.

4. Technical Issues:
Like any online resource, the Common App may experience occasional bugs or downtime. This can cause stress for applicants trying to complete their applications on time.

5. Cost
While using the Common App is generally more cost-effective than submitting individual applications, there is still a fee involved. Additionally, some schools may have their own application fees.

6. Limited Customization:
Due to its design for use by multiple institutions, the Common App may not offer as much customization as some applicants desire. Some colleges may have unique essay questions or admissions standards that are not supported by the Common App.

Expert Tips for Using the Common App

Here are some expert tips to help you when applying through the Common App:

– Select mentors who can provide guidance and support throughout the application process.

– Avoid starting applications at the last minute, as the stress and increased risk of errors can be detrimental. Begin early and use the Common App preview feature to review your applications before submitting them.

– Seek advice from experts who can help you understand and navigate the Common App effectively.

Who Should Use the Common App?

The Common App is widely recognized by prestigious colleges and universities as a simplified application method that allows students to apply to multiple institutions at once. It saves time and effort by eliminating the need to fill out individual forms for each college.

Even if your desired college does not accept the Common App, you can still benefit from using it to transfer information like formal high school credentials and final exam results, as most colleges require similar documents.

Key Features of the Common App

The Common App website is divided into five sections. Students typically start by using the “College Search” option to select colleges. Once uploaded, students can access their applications through the “Dashboard” tab, which provides an overview of application progress and remaining tasks for each school.

Students should complete the remaining sections of their application, including transcripts, test scores, family history, and more, on the “Common App” page.

Common App Fee Waiver

The Common App and many colleges believe that application fees should not be a barrier for any student. Eligible students may qualify for a Common App fee waiver.

To request a fee waiver, visit the Common App Fee Waiver section of your profile. After completing this part, your counselor can submit a fee waiver form to support your request. The Common App fee waiver will then be available for all your college applications.


The Common App has become a popular choice for students to submit their college applications. With over 900 member institutions, it simplifies the process by allowing students to complete a single application and send it to multiple colleges. This saves time and effort while enabling students to apply to more schools. Over time, the Common App has expanded its features and resources, such as application status tracking, recommender contact, and file uploads. Our experts are here to help students better understand and navigate the Common App.