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The Common Application

Apply to 500+ colleges with one application.

One of the most tedious aspects of the US university application is filling out the same information on multiple applications.

Countless students have wished that they could fill out one application and send it, with only minor variations, to every school they were applying to.

In 1975, the dream became a reality – sort of.

The Common Application, a standardized form that can be filled out and sent to multiple colleges, came into being. The only problem was that at first it was accepted by only 15 colleges out of the thousands that exist in the US.

Today, more than 500 colleges (including some of the most prestigious in the country) accept the Common Application, and over half a million students’ lives are made easier because of it every year.

What Do Admissions Committees Think of the Common Application?

The big question asked by most students is whether submitting the Common Application instead of a school-specific application hurts their chances of being accepted.

The answer is tricky.

Colleges that accept the Common Application sign a form promising not to give preference to school-specific applications. There’s no concrete evidence to support the notion, but some people maintain that the Common Application will in fact slightly decrease your chances of getting in.

Therefore, when applying to your top choice, it can’t hurt to fill out a school-specific application.

For the most part, there’s no downside to the Common Application. It streamlines the process, so you don’t have to spend months and months filling out application after application.

The schools that accept it include small local schools and the top colleges in the world, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

The Common Application Selection Process

All Common Application schools have a holistic selection process. In other words, they don’t go by grades and test scores alone to judge your worth as a potential student.

You also must include an admissions essay of at least 250 words and a minimum of one recommendation from a teacher or school counselor that says something more substantial than “this student did very well on his/her tests.” Ask someone who knows you well to write it.

Diversity is also a factor, which can be advantageous for international students. If you think your grades don’t tell your whole story, then schools that accept the Common Application can be a good fit.

Additional Required Material for the Common Application

Some schools require extra material if you’re applying using the Common Application – a supplemental essay, for instance, or a recommendation letter from someone who knows you from outside your school. It’s important to contact each college to make sure you’re including everything they’re looking for when you send in your application.

The Universal College Application

In 2007, the Common Application got some competition from the Universal College Application. Started by the people who provided the technology platform originally used by the Common Application, it aims for a broader membership.

Any accredited college or university can accept the Universal application. So far, only about 46 colleges (among them are Harvard and Duke) are utilizing it, but the number is growing fast. It may not be long before one application really will be accepted by all schools.

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In the meantime, remember that for every college that accepts the Common Application, Universal College Application or both, there are another ten that don’t. Don’t limit how many colleges you apply to just because you don’t like filling out multiple applications. In the long run, four years at the college of your choice will trump a couple of nights filling out forms.