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The Common APP

Approach the college admissions process confidently with our concise, handy guide to the Common App!

What is the Common Application?

The Common Application is an undergraduate college admission application. As of 2020, it is accepted by over 900 schools from around the country. Using the “Common App,” you can apply to several colleges at once, so you only need to fill out the nitty-gritty details (such as name, address, activities, etc) once. It is available to use in all fifty states, Washington DC, and twenty other countries. You can learn more about financial aid and scholarships through the Common App website.


Common App Info for 2020-2021

The Common Application team makes many updates each year, but in 2020, these changes are more important than ever. Besides making several improvements to the website, there is now an optional question that is specific to COVID-19. The prompt asks if and how the coronavirus pandemic affected your life, whether in terms of family, finances, or future plans. Keep in mind that this is different from the Additional Information section that asks students to explain other notable impacts on their lives. 


Why Use the Common App?

The Common Application is a great choice, as you fill out one application for several schools. This is extremely efficient and saves time, which is perfect for busy juniors and seniors. The website is well-designed and includes extensive information on all types of colleges, whether they’re private or public. Although the Common App has many benefits, remember that you are not required to use it. There are many other organizations/applications you can use. Similar organizations include the Coalition Application, Universal College Application, and the Common Black College Application.


When and How to Fill Out an Application:

The updated version of the Common Application is released on August 1 each year. Experts recommend students to start filling out their applications the summer before senior year, but you can make an account on the Common Application website anytime. Although it is not due over the summer, it is best to start early in case you run into any issues along the way. It should take students at least six weeks to complete their application to allow time for teachers to fill out recommendations and submit transcripts.  


Common App Essays:

Listed below are the seven essay prompts for the 2020-2021 school year. These are the same ones from the 2019-2020 school year, and the word limit is 650 words.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story. 

  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.


Common App Tips and Tricks:

  1. If the pandemic has had minor effects on you or your family, such as an important competition being canceled, then write only a few bullet points in the COVID-19 section. If the pandemic has had a larger, more life-changing effect on you, consider whether you'd like to write your essay about the effect COVID-19 has had on your life. 

  2. Take advantage of the description box below the activity list! Explain how you were personally invested in each activity by describing your contributions to the team. This allows colleges to see you as a passionate, involved community member. 

  3. Download the Common Application mobile app on your phone. This will help you keep track of upcoming deadlines and important news. 

  4. Teachers are extremely important! Teacher recommendations are a significant part of your college applications because they allow colleges to see what you are like from the point of view of a third party. Don't take them for granted, and make good impressions on them early on. It's important for you to make these connections early so that you can comfortably ask for a recommendation later on. 

  5. Start early! If there's one thing you shouldn't procrastinate on, it's your college applications. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to write thoughtful essays, create a strong academic/extracurricular profile, and put your best foot forward. (Also make sure that you give your teachers enough time to write great recommendation letters!)


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