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Everything You Need to Know About the Common App

Last updated December 3, 2020

The Common App is a college application that is accepted by almost 900 colleges and universities around the world. Instead of having to create an account on each college’s website and fill out a separate application for each college, you can conveniently fill out one common application and save time. In addition to the Common App’s application questions, you might also need to answer each college’s own specific questions.

What you’ll need:

Before you start completing the Common App, save yourself some time by gathering all the information you will need to fill it. This includes your high school transcript, test scores (SAT/ACT), information about your parent/legal guardian (their occupation, employment status, and education), and a list of your activities and academic honors or achievements (both in and out of school).

Starting the Common App

To start your Common App, go tohttps://www.commonapp.org/ and click on “Create an Account” in the upper right corner. You will need to provide an email address that you check often, since the Common App and colleges will contact you at this address. After you provide some basic information about yourself, an account will be created.

Choosing colleges to apply to on the Common App:

In your account, click on the “College Search” tab to search for colleges and add them to the list of colleges you will submit an application to. Be sure to check out our “How To Build Your College List” articlefor advice on how to build a list of colleges to apply to.

After you add a college to your Common App “My Colleges” list, select any college and click on “Recommenders & FERPA.” You will only need to complete the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) Release Authorization once, to allow your schools to release information to the colleges you are applying to. After you complete the authorization, you can invite recommenders that will write your letters of recommendation and your counselor that will submit the School Report and any other required forms.

Filling out the Common App:

In the “Common App” tab, you will provide information that will be sent to every college you apply to. The “Activities” section in this tab gives you the opportunity to share up to ten activities in your application. There are a variety of activities you can write about, which include both activities in and out of school, family responsibilities, jobs and internships, volunteering, hobbies, and sports. There is a character limit, so you might need to use abbreviations. For each activity, you will need to provide the number of hours spent per week on the activities, and the weeks spent per year. If you can’t remember exactly, give your best guess.

You will also need to choose one of seven prompts to write your Common App essay. For advice on writing your essay and for help with choosing a prompt, check out our article: “Most Common College Essay Topics.”

In the “My Colleges” tab, you will complete all of the information for each college on your list. This is the tab you will use to answer college specific questions, invite recommenders, and submit applications. If you would like to preview college specific essay prompts, click here.

Worried about application fees? Many colleges don’t require an app fee, and you can request waivers!

More than 325 of the colleges that accept the Common App do not have an application fee, and it’s important to note that you can also apply for an application fee waiver. To learn more about fee waivers, check out this article.

Got more questions about how the Common App works? Text “Hello” to 33-55-77 and we’ll walk you through how it works and answer any questions you might have. 

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