(Photo courtesy of Round House)

By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP


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 our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Recommended Reading About College Admissions and Scholarships

Culp, Paul. “Not So Fast: When Colleges Rescind Acceptances,” The Coaching Educator, 31 January 2019, http://tce.local/2019/01/31/not-so-fast-when-colleges-rescind-acceptances/

Culp, Paul. “Ten Common Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for College,” The Coaching Educator, 31 August 2018, http://tce.local/2018/08/31/ten-common-mistakes-you-must-avoid-in-applying-for-college/

Culp, Paul. “Ten Common Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, http://tce.local/2019/02/06/ten-common-mistakes-you-must-avoid-in-applying-for-scholarships/

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