Using the College Common Application to Apply for College

The college common application can streamline the process for students – but there are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind. Read on for the details.

Requesting transcripts, writing admissions essays and compiling reference letters all while finishing the last year of high school can be a hectic, stressful time. The college common application, however, can help with the process.

To make it easier for both prospective students and university admissions staff, a group of 15 universities and colleges got together back in 1975 to create The Common Application.

Instead of writing down the same information over and over, students fill out one application that can be used to apply across multiple universities and colleges.

“We use The Common App because of its popularity among undergrad applicants today – and for ease of use,” says Joel Haines, an admissions counselor from Hillsdale College.

How does the college common application work?

The Common Application is completed online at Prospective students must make an account and input information about their family history, grades, extracurricular activities and standardized test scores.

“Have a family member on hand to help with basic questions,” says Lindsey Taggert, a senior admissions counselor at the University of Michigan on the university’s blog.

“Certain parts of The Common Application may ask things that you may not know (like your family’s household income or your dad’s email address), so it’s great to have a family member nearby to help you answer those questions right away.”

Some universities require a personal essay as well, which must be between 250 and 650 words.

“Avoid wordy essays that merely ‘tell,'” Haines says. “We want to know the ‘why’ and ‘how’ you think.

“Make sure to proof your entire application – we pick up on little grammar mistakes,” he adds.

The nonprofit Khan University, which is based in California, offers a walk-through of the college common application.

The online application doesn’t have to be completed all at once: Students can save their progress as they fill out the application. Plus, the application opens each year on Aug. 1, and students can spend months deciding on the best information to include before deadlines roll in.

Be mindful that while the college common application does not require an application fee, many Michigan universities do.

Wayne State University requires a $25 fee, the University of Michigan requires a $75 fee and Michigan State University requires a $65 fee.

How many schools use it?

Seventeen schools in Michigan accept The Common Application out of the roughly 800 schools that use it worldwide.

The following Michigan universities and colleges accept The Common Application:

  1. Albion College
  2. Alma College
  3. Calvin College
  4. Hillsdale College
  5. Hope College
  6. Kalamazoo College
  7. Kettering University
  8. Lawrence Technological University
  9. Michigan State University
  10. Northwood University
  11. Olivet College
  12. Spring Arbor University
  13. University of Detroit Mercy
  14. University of Michigan
  15. University of Michigan – Flint
  16. Wayne State University
  17. Western Michigan University

Among schools that do not currently use it are Oakland University, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan Technological University and Grand Valley State University.

As for deadlines, each school is different. Some schools, like the University of Michigan, have Early Action deadlines, too, so be sure to visit each school’s admissions webpage to see the specifics.

Tips and pitfalls to avoid

When filling out The Common Application, admissions counselors warn prospective students to give themselves enough time to enter all information correctly, read questions carefully and be mindful of the best information to include.

“There are 10 spots on your application to enter your extracurricular activities, but that does not mean that all 10 spots have to be filled,” say University of Michigan staff Amanda Blanchette and Melissa Purdy on the university’s blog. “Make sure you’re prioritizing quality over quantity.”

They add, “Arrange your activities according to which ones were most important, meaning you made the largest contribution in these activities, rather than which activities you were part of most recently. As application readers, it’s disappointing to see strong leadership roles in the middle of your list; make sure these rise to the top.”

Another pitfall to avoid is that while the college common application also requires a high school transcript, transcripts sometimes won’t include senior year courses.

“Be sure to list your full senior year schedule under the ‘Current or Most Recent Year Courses’ section,” Taggert says.

Of course, every university and college has admissions staff available to prospective students to answer questions. Some admissions counselors are assigned to certain districts and states, so be sure to contact the correct person when reaching out.

“Your application is like a window into who you are, so make sure to be thorough,” Haines says. “We love genuine applications.”

Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn
Amanda Rahn is a freelance journalist, copy editor and proud Detroiter. She is a graduate of Wayne State University’s journalism school and of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University. Amanda is a lover of translated contemporary fiction, wines from Jura and her dog, Lottie.


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