US college and university applications are a lot more similar than they first look!

A US university application can be one of life’s great mysteries, especially to students without friends or siblings who have already applied to a US college.

What does a US university application look like? (The answer: Scarier than it actually is.)

And how much do applications vary between US universities? (The answer: They are pretty much the same, with slight variations.)

Know what to expect when you start printing a US university application and your task will be even easier!

Before You Look at a US University Application

Before downloading a dozen or more US college or university applications, be aware that two forms are of particular interest. First, the Common Application is now used by more than 300 schools throughout the US. Second, the Universal College Application has more than 50 subscribers. By looking at either of these two forms, you will get an idea of what to expect from virtually every US university application. You can decide to apply using the Common or Universal application, but first check to make sure they are accepted by the colleges and universities to which you want to apply.

Why Are US University Applications So Thick?

When you print a US university application and see page after page sliding out, you may wonder how you will have time to fill out a single application, let alone one for each college you are applying to.

Don’t worry! Much of an application’s bulk consists of fact-based blanks to fill in, such as your date of birth and the school you attended. It doesn’t take very long.

Another big section needs to be filled out by the teachers or counselors you have chosen to recommend you. There also are sections for athletes, artists, applicants who are home-schooled — in other words, there is a lot of stuff that you won’t have to worry about.

US University Application Essays

The section of US university applications that probably requires the most thought is the writing section. It usually consists of a short answer and longer personal statement. It may not take up much space in the application form, but the admissions essay will loom large in the minds of the admissions committees who want to know more about you than just your grades. Even if you are using the Common or Universal application, many schools also will require some sort of additional, school-specific material, usually an essay.

Carefully Review Your US University Application

You are usually required to do something in most sections of your university application, even if it is simply entering personal data, such as your name or date of birth. Each school also will have its own financial aid form. Make sure your application isn’t missing information that should have been entered. Colleges won’t look at your application until everything they need has been received. Submitting a sloppy application may even hinder your chances of getting accepted. The best way to be organized is to look carefully at every section and make sure you are not overlooking anything. Now that you have a better idea of what is expected when you fill out a US university application, you are ready for the next step. Filling out a college application still takes time, effort and a lot of care. But taking a good look at the application beforehand will prepare you to put your best self forward.