What is the Common Application? A Complete Guide

The process of applying to colleges can be a complex and arduous journey for both students and their parents.

Over 900 colleges, including those outside the United States, accept the Common Application, making it easier for students to apply to college.

Over the years, the platform provided first-time and transfer applicants alike the opportunity to apply to several colleges at once. 

Also, students only have to input details that most colleges require, including name, address, and extracurricular activities, once.

“The idea behind the Common App is to reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college,” says Jenny Rickard, president, and CEO of The Common Application.

Is your dream school a Common Application college? Here is a guide that can help ease students and parents through the application.

What is the Common Application? A Complete Guide

What is the Common Application?

The Common Application, also known as Common App is an online college application system used by over 900 colleges and universities to process admissions. 

As an undergraduate admissions application system, it allows applicants to fill out their general information- name, address, GPA, and extracurricular activities — only once! 

This is advantageous to applicants as inputting personal data could become monotonous and may lead to discrepancies once done multiple times.

The Common App dashboard also helps you follow up on necessary application documents such as letters of recommendation and also meet up with important deadlines.

Today, Common App is a non-profit membership organization representing over 900 diverse institutions of higher education. Also, we connect applicants and those who support them to an array of public and private colleges and universities across all 50 U.S. states, and 20 countries.

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What Colleges use the Common Application?

Several colleges use the Common Application to process admissions. The list of institutions varies from private, public, liberal art institutes, and engineering colleges. Check out the full list of the 978 Common Application schools.

When Can I Work on My College Application Through the Common Application?

The application season on the Common Application opens every year on August 1. 

As a result of the variance in college application deadlines, they advise students to pay close attention to know when to submit the required documents.

For instance, students who intend to apply for early decisions may need to apply on November 1, whereas they will slate the regular decision deadline for January 1 each year for most schools. 

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In addition, prospective students should be aware that college application deadlines might vary widely, so they should keep a close eye on those dates.

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How do you Apply to Common Applications in Colleges?

Carefully follow these steps to apply to colleges through the Common Application.

1. Create a Common App account.

Go to commonapp.org and click on the “Start your application” button to get details on how to create an account and log in. 

In addition, students can download the Common App mobile application to enable them to set reminders, follow up on deadlines, and invite recommenders.

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2. Confirm which of the schools on your list accept the Common Application.

Despite its popularity, not all schools accept the Common Application. Some colleges may require that you fill out their application form or they proffer another online admissions application system like ApplyTexas for Texas colleges. 

After making your research, add schools that interest you to the “My Colleges” list on your Common App account.

3. Review the admission information for every school you are considering.

Prospective students should bear in mind that the Common App schools may have distinct writing, testing, essay, and letter of recommendation requirements. Please ensure that you carry out proper research! 

It should be pointed out that you’ll use the same Common College application form but admission prerequisites may vary from school to school.

For instance, some colleges may require the SAT or ACT, while other institutes might be test-optional. Most schools will instruct you to write essays in addition to the Common App essay. Submissions will be made through the dashboard of the Common App.

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4. Compile all necessary information.

Majorly, every application will require a copy of your high school transcript, a list of your extracurricular activities, and also information about your parent or guardian’s educational background and employment history.

5. Start working on your application now!

Your Common Application Dashboard will display all your colleges and the status of each component of your application. 

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Also, start inputting your general information, select an essay topic or ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation. There’s no college application task too stupendous.

6. Always track the status of your application(s).

The icons on your Dashboard are there to guide your way. A green check means your work has been submitted to that specific college, a yellow circle means your application is still in progress, and a red dash means that a particular section is not required for admission to that college. 

7. Submission.

Submit all your application materials by 11:59 pm (in your local time zone) on the deadline date posted in your Common App Dashboard.

What are the Common Application Essays?

All students will be asked to submit one essay through the Common Application for all your schools. However, some colleges may ask you to also answer a few supplementary questions. 

There are some Common App essay prompts available online which you can easily access and start planning on which essay to write.

How Does the Common Application Work for Transfer Students?

The transfer option of the Common Application works the same way as it does for first-time applicants, with some slight differences.

Unlike first-time applicants, Transfer students will have additional information to submit from colleges attended. 

Furthermore, the Common App requires transfer students to list any college or university attended, dates of enrollment, college coursework completed, and GPA.

Also, an essay for transfer students will be required. Common App updated the transfer essay requirement last year, making the question prompts the same as for first-time applicants.

What Does the Common App Cost?

The Common App is free to use, but every college has a specific application processing fee (usually $30 to $75 for U.S. applicants and more for international applicants). 

However, you can apply for a fee waiver if you need one

Can I Get Fee Waivers for the Common App?

The Common App is free to use and 48.9% of member schools do not charge application fees for first-year students, according to data provided by the organization. 

On the other hand, students applying to colleges that have an application fee will have to pay that cost when submitting their applications.

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Applicants who qualify for fee waivers – those who meet the standards set by the National Association for College Admission Counseling – will be able to make that known through the application.

“A student only needs to show that they have financial hardship once in the application, and that fee waiver can be applied to any school they apply to,” says Jenny Rickard, president, and CEO of The Common Application.

Also, students who have questions about whether they qualify for fee waivers can reach out to their high school counselors or directly to the colleges to which they are applying.


Since 1975, they have always tilted the major aim of Common Application towards the removal of obstacles, and reduction of stress encountered by students and their families from many college applications.

The vision is to provide easy access to higher education opportunities for all students by creating a single, shared application system for college admission.

Today, students can use the Common App to apply to over 900 colleges and universities. 

As the application evolved from a paper application to an online platform, the core of Common App’s principles has remained the same, that is, promoting access, equity, and integrity, in the college admissions process for all students. 

In addition to these principles is the promotion of fair, straightforward, transparent, and consistent practices in admissions.


What is the difference between a common application and a university application?

The Common Application accepts only colleges that share the same broad, holistic admissions process, while the Universal College Application accepts schools that are accredited and follows the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s ethical guidelines.

Is the Common App only for private schools?

No. While many Private universities and colleges use the Common App to process admissions, some public universities use it as well. However, it should be noted that public universities tend to have their own admissions applications system.

Does Havard use Common App?

Absolutely. Harvard is one of the schools that use Common App to process its admissions. The application fee costs about $75 or you can request a fee waiver.


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