The Coaching Educator

How the Common App Works


(Photo courtesy of Round House)

By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT


It’s a shame that I’m not wearing overalls.

That’s because it’s always appropriate to be wearing overalls and hook your thumb in one of the shoulder straps whenever you begin an utterance with “In my day…”

In my day, we didn’t have the Common Application. If you applied to, let’s say, ten colleges, you had to start from scratch on each separate application. We also didn’t have online applications then, so there was a lot of paper involved. For that matter, we didn’t even have word processors (those arrived in time for me to apply for graduate school), so there was no way to save and reuse any of your information.

You young people today…

The Common App is a welcome development, making things so much simpler for colleges and applicants, at least some of them. But besides not being universal, it also isn’t a one-step process, its immense convenience notwithstanding.

As of mid-2018, more than 800 colleges and universities in the U.S. and 50-plus institutions in 19 other countries accept the Common App. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, there are about 2,600 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., so the Common App will meet your needs in the case of about 30 percent of accredited schools. North Dakota is the only state without an institution that accepts it.

There is no pattern to the exclusivity, or lack thereof, of Common App participating institutions. All eight Ivy League schools accept it, as do Stanford, Cal Tech, Vanderbilt, Amherst, and Rice, while among elite schools the University of California system has its own application, which is accepted at all ten campuses, and MIT and Georgetown require application through their own websites. Policy also varies among schools not noted for being academic powerhouses; good manners require that we not name them here.

About two thirds of member schools also accept alternate types of applications in lieu of the Common App. As U.S. News reports, “Many schools allow students to apply online through their websites. Some states have application systems that students can or must use in order to apply to schools. For example, Texas has a statewide system for submitting applications, though some Texas schools also accept the Common App.”

Assuming you want to apply to multiple Common App colleges, it still isn’t a one-and-done push-button procedure, though it does take care of some of the duller and more pedestrian and more time-consuming aspects of applying for admission. Colleges typically will ask for information specific to an applicant’s interest in them, on top of Common App material such as basic personal information, SAT or ACT scores, grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and an essay. Each applicant is allowed a maximum of 20 schools.

Use of the Common App is free, and Common Application CEO and president Jenny Rickard says about 45 percent of participating colleges and universities do not require additional application fees. Fee waivers are available for students who can demonstrate financial hardship.

Notwithstanding the manifold conveniences afforded by the Common App, preparing for your tests, lining up your references, presenting all of your information in the best possible way, and meeting all your deadlines can be a challenge. The Coaching Educator can assist with all of that—and we also offer state-of-the-art one-on-one coaching, based on the Oxford tutorial system, in how to produce an essay that will help you truly stand out.

To learn more about what we can do to help you get into and succeed at the right college, and afford the experience, contact us today for a free consultation.

Paul Culp has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer. A former journalist, he has taught academic writing and research methods at the university level and an assortment of humanities courses at the secondary level, and now writes for The Coaching Educator team.


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Paul Culp

How the Common App Works

(Photo courtesy of Round House) By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT   It’s a shame that I’m not wearing overalls. That’s because it’s always appropriate

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