Common Application 101

As you approach your senior year of college you begin preparations for college application season. You may tour multiple campuses over the summer or watch video upon video on the application process. The first question to address on this journey is what is the Common Application? With multiple application deadlines throughout the fall and winter and some schools even using rolling decision timelines, how do you know when to start your application for college?

Common Application 101 - What you need to know

What is the Common Application? 

The Common Application is an online platform created in 1975 to consolidate the college admissions processes for applicants. Rather than keeping track of individual applications and platforms that each college creates for itself, the Common Application allows students to use one platform to fill out a standardized college application and tailored supplements for each college. Having grown consistently since its invention, the Common Application now allows students to choose from over 1,000 partner colleges across the world to apply to. 

The Common Application consists of two major components. The first is the “Common Application” which includes your academic, activity, award, and demographic information as well as your college essay or personal statement. The second portion is the “College Supplement”. This is the admission information, essays, and questions created by and tailored to each college that you apply to. The Common Application in your account goes to every college you apply to while the “College Supplement” only goes to each individual college. 

When can you start the application?

The Common Application renews for the new application year and launches on August 1st for first-year applicants. The soonest that you can submit an application is August 1st, however, you should not see the opening of the Common Application as a race to submit your application. 

With early decision and early action application deadlines typically falling on or around November 1st, you should start your Common Application when it opens on August 1st and be ready to submit your application 1-2 weeks before the application deadline. When the Common Application first opens, you should prioritize working on applications for schools with early deadlines first. Regular decision applications tend not to be due until January, so you will have significantly more time to perfect those applications than your application for early deadlines. Rolling admissions is a process by which a school has a “priority” application deadline that tends to ensure consideration for scholarships or space in the most popular majors while still accepting applications for weeks or months past the deadline based on available space. When applying to schools with rolling admissions, you should always aim to apply by the priority deadline. 

How to Start the Common Application

To start the Common Application, create an account. As you create your Common Application account you will fill out necessary information like what type of applicant you are (first-year or transfer) and what academic year you are applying for. Once you have created and activated your account, begin adding colleges that partner with the Common Application to your dashboard to work on the general Common Application form and the individualized supplements for each school. 

Remember that your college application will also include outside documents like your high school transcript, recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. While the Common Application form may not open until August 1st, you can and should begin collecting these documents in advance during your junior year. Begin standardized testing and identifying your letter of recommendation writers well in advance to give yourself time for retaking exams or asking new teachers for letters of recommendation if you need to. 

Students should review Common Application blog posts on the personal statement essay prompts to begin brainstorming over the summer. The Common Application reviews and updates personal statement essay prompts each year but looking at essay prompts from the previous year is a good way to begin your essay writing prompt. Take a look at the essay prompts for 2023-24 here! 

Common App 101: Next Steps

Now that you know how and when to start your Common Application for college, you’re on the path to successfully submitting applications for admission! But applying for college can be overwhelming and you will run into many more questions along the way. If you need any assistance with your application, why not contact us today?

Former Assistant Director of Admission at Rice University
Former Senior Admissions Fellow at Dartmouth College

4,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Alexis earned their B.A. in Anthropology at Dartmouth College and a M.A. in Social Anthropology at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, supported by a Dartmouth fellowship. At Dartmouth College, Alexis was a Senior Admissions Fellow, conducting outreach, writing blog posts, and evaluating applications.

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