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How does the CommonApp work?

How much does it cost?

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Matthew L.’s Answer

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Hi Khloe. Excellent question.


People applying to college now have a great tool at their disposal called the "Common Application". When I was applying to college I had to type out each application by hand on a typewriter. Now the Common Application helps to eliminate a lot of that repetitive data entry. The Common Application is a single, on-line application that you fill out once with most (but not all) of the information that colleges typically want. You will be asked for things like background information, address, education, high school activities, parental information, references, and standardized testing. However, each college likely will have some additional items it requires. Be sure you know what these items are and when all the deadlines are. The Common App Website has some handy tools to help you and a nifty app you can download.


here are some things to keep in mind when working with the Common Application:

  • Start by Identifying Your Top Schools - Before you even consider filling out the Common App, you should identify the schools you're interested in and see if they accept the Common App. More than 750 state, public, private, large, small and religious colleges and universities accept the Common App. But if your colleges are not among those, you probably don't need to bother with it. You'll need to fill out and submit each application separately. Make a list of your top schools and see if they accept it. The easiest way to start is to go to the Common App website and review the list of schools that accept the Common App.
  • Collect Your Information - Get your information together. At a minimum you will need high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, and ACT/SAT test scores and test dates. Again, check out the Common App website to see what they want you to have ready. This is also a good time to hit their "Virtual Counselor" section of the website. They have videos and lots of good information there.
  • Make Sure you Follow Each School's Instructions to the Letter - School usually have their own quirky additional information that they want from you. They may have different essays for you to submit or letters of recommendation or some other info. Make sure you go each school's website and confirm you have everything they want ready to go. You don't want to be rejected or force them to delay consideration of your application because it was somehow incomplete. Make a checklist of what you need for each school.
  • Make Sure You Know the Application Deadlines - Every college is different. Make sure you know all the deadlines for the various schools to which you are planning to apply. Set up a schedule. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get all the applications done. Remember too that some colleges have early admission deadlines. Another thing to remember is that if you have to get letters of recommendation from teachers or order transcripts, this all takes time. Give your recommenders as much time as possible. They are busy people and probably can't just whip up a really great letter of recommendation (or 50) in a weekend. Give them at least 3 months to do the letter and follow up regularly if you don't hear from them. If they agree to do the recommendation, they work for you. This is your education and don't let them derail your application because they didn't have enough time or forgot. Follow up with the colleges too and make sure the required materials are in if you are not sure. The Common Application website has a great app you can download to help you track deadlines and other items.
  • Cost - The process of registering on the Common App website does not cost anything. However, most colleges charge for their applications. The cost is usually between $25 and $90 (most are in the middle somewhere). Be sure you and your parents are ready to absorb this cost. They mostly do this to weed out the people who are not serious. If you have to come up with $50 but you really have no intention of attending that college, most people won't do it. Saves them time. Prioritize your college choices according to the ones you feel you can get into based on your grades, test scores, college budget, etc., and that match your interests. It may also be possible to get a fee waiver. Check with the individual colleges to find out how and what the requirements are.
  • Your Information is Private - Schools you apply to using the Common App cannot see which other schools you've applied to, so don't worry about that.

So that's basically how the Common Application works. It's a great innovation, but you still have to do the work. Above all, make sure you are absolutely sure about what each college requires and all deadlines. Find out more about it here: Common Application Website

Matthew L. recommends the following next steps:

Research the colleges you're thinking about attending. See if they accept the Common App (not all colleges do). If any of the colleges on your list do accept the Common App, you should use it.
Check out the Common Application website. See what kind of information the App requires and start collecting it (grades, tests and dates, etc.). Check out the FAQs page to get answers to questions, including those you may not have thought of yet.
Create an account and provide the information requested. But remember: Just because a college accepts the Common App does not mean they won't want additional information from you (like essays, letters of recommendation, etc.). Check the colleges' websites and pay very careful attention to what each college requires.
One other thing to be aware of with the Common App site is that screens are timed. If you take too long typing in your info (like typing your essay, for example), it may time out and you'll have to redo any unsaved info. Best to type your essay into a word processor, get it perfect, and just cut and paste.
The Common App website also has some great tools to help you track your applications. Be sure to use these to make it easier. And make absolutely sure you know every requirement and deadline for each college to which you are applying. Leave yourself plenty of time to apply.

Terrific advice, as always Matthew! Thank you!! Lindsey Manning-Djabbari BACKER

Thanks for the kind words. Man I wish they had the Common App in 1981. I can still remember making a spelling mistake with the typewriter on one of my applications and panicking for 2 days when none of the stores in town had any "ivory" whiteout. Who prints their applications on ivory paper? Scarred for life. Matthew L. Tuck, J.D., M.B.A.

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