What is the Common Application?

By Sarah Soule

At the onset of my senior year of high school, in the fall of 1976, I met with my college counselor and we crafted my final list of colleges to which I would be submitting applications. I dutifully filled out six applications, but used a typewriter and when I made a mistake, I corrected it with ‘white out’ (something current high school students have never even heard of). Now students have the good fortune to apply to college online without filling out paper applications as their parents and I did back in the day!

In 1975-76, the Common Application was “born” when fifteen private colleges established a universal, standardized application for member institutions.  Now, almost 40 years later, there are 488 colleges and universities that participate in the Common Application. The Common Application is used by a wide variety of institutions, both public and private, and last year over 2.5 million applications were submitted to participating colleges and universities. Locally, Champlain, UVM, and St. Michael’s are each members of the Common Application.

To be considered for membership, an institution must use an all-inclusive admission process when evaluating prospective applicants. This means that they must require at least one recommendation form and a written essay.  Many colleges and universities use only test scores and grades to evaluate students in the admission process, therefore they are not able to become members of the Common Application.

The Common Application has greatly simplified the process of applying to college since I was a senior in high school.  Students who use this application create a personalized account in August, just prior to the onset of their senior year at www.commonapp.org.  Once formed, a student will have access to the application and will begin entering pertinent demographic information, activities, honors, volunteer and community service projects, and athletic information all in one place.

The Common App includes essays that are universally agreed upon by the member colleges.  While the site does not go “live” for area juniors until August 2013, the essay questions have already been published. Juniors, it is not too early to begin considering them now.

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there and why is it meaningful to you?

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

It also should be noted that some of the member colleges and universities may have supplemental essays and/or require additional information as part of the Common Application.  This is done at their discretion.

Once a student enters their information in to the Common Application it is complete and does not have to be duplicated to each of the member institutions to which she or he is applying. This is a huge time savings for the student. When I was a high school senior and I applied to multiple colleges, I had to fill out the same information over and over!

Another amazing change in the college process since my senior year is Naviance.  Students at CVU, Vermont Commons, and Rice have the benefit of using this invaluable tool, which provides an abundance of information about the path to higher education, including a link to the Common Application.

Students and parents are encouraged to work closely with their college counselor who can offer keen insights to both resources.  And finally, don’t forget to attend the college fair at CVU on Monday, April 8!   That will be a great opportunity to meet with representatives and learn more about a wide variety of colleges and universities. Ask them what their thoughts are about the Common Application. Good luck!

Sarah Soule is the Director of College Counseling at the Vermont Com

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