The Common Application

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by Michael Pugh,

You've narrowed your choice of colleges down to seven different schools. Now comes the fun part: filling out seven different applications. This means entering your name/address/school data over and over and writing multiple personal essays. And if you can't apply online, this means reacquainting yourself with a typewriter.

At long last, an alternative is gaining momentum: the Common Application.

What Is the Common Application?

The Common Application is a standardized undergraduate college application form that is accepted at more than 240 accredited, independent colleges and universities nationwide. Schools that accept the Common Application include Boston University, Cornell College, New York University and Syracuse University. Some of these institutions use the Common Application exclusively.

The Common Application looks similar to most college applications, with all the usual fields for name, address, school and test data, as well as questions about your work experience and volunteer activities. For the personal essay, you may choose one of four questions, or propose a question of your own.

How Does it Work?

You can use the Common Application in one of two ways:

  1. Download it for free at
    The four-page application functions just like a spreadsheet document, allowing you jump around from field to field, cut and paste text, and save multiple versions of your work. Once the form is complete, just print it out, photocopy it, and send it off to any number of participating institutions.
  2. Complete the application online for free at and submit it directly to participating institutions
    The site is encrypted for your privacy and requires that you register beforehand. Once you've created an account you can save, alter and revise your application as often as you like before submitting.

Supplements and Extra Materials

Many colleges and universities require a supplement in addition to the Common Application. Supplements usually contain additional, institution-specific questions and, in some cases, additional essay questions. Most institutions that require supplements have them available for download on their Web site or directly from

But just because a college or university doesn't require a supplement, don't be afraid to include extra materials. If you're a musician or artist, include samples of your work with your application. If you'd like to highlight additional volunteer or community work, include supplemental information.


The obvious advantage to the Common Application is that it saves you time. Instead of typing the same information multiple times, you have only to do it once. More importantly, there's only one personal essay to write. This not only saves time, it allows you to channel all your efforts into crafting a single, flawless essay.

If you choose to complete the application online, you also save postal time and fees.


The main drawback to the Common Application is its limited acceptance. More than 240 colleges and universities currently accept the application, but that is still a fraction of the 4,000+ institutions around the country.

The Common Application continues to grow in acceptance, however, and may one day be accepted by the majority of colleges and universities.

Bottom Line

Filling out multiple college applications is tedious and time-consuming. If you're applying to two or more participating schools, the Common Application is well worth your while.

The Common Application is sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). For more information, including a list of participating colleges and universities, check out

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