The Common Application and its Components

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Everything you need to know about the Common Application Form

You have probably seen Amitabh Bachchan on TV admonishing a 30-something guy for the innumerable apps on his phone that disturb his peace at the airport! He proceeds to advise him about a single ‘app’ that can take care of everything. If you are a school student, then you are probably wondering if you can get the same help with your college admissions! Well, your prayers have been answered. The Common App is a platform that provides everything in a single place. If you are looking for guidance in applying to undergraduate colleges in the US, then this is the best place to start. In fact, the Common App today covers institutions across the world, not just those in the US, so understanding it can be pivotal to your plans to study abroad for a bachelor’s degree.

Common App is the result of efforts of some (15 initially) educational institutions that have strived to make the application process easy for candidates. What began as the ‘Common Application Experiment’ changed the course of college admissions forever! In fact, now over 800 institutions worldwide are part of it. The Common App allows students to complete a single, comprehensive application form here which can be sent to multiple colleges and schools. Common App is maintained and operated by a non-profit organisation. The primary goal is to make the application process fair and accessible.

What is it? How do you begin?

It is quite similar to every other online platform where you register to begin using the services. To start with, you will need to create an account to help you send and receive communications and other information. You can add schools and colleges to a list on your profile. Further, the Common App features a tracker that can help you collate a list of requirements. By doing this you can work smartly and efficiently towards submitting a complete application.

Which schools are part of the Common App?

To begin with, all the Ivy-League schools such as Brown University, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, and Yale are members of the Common App.

Some cool features of the Common App

When it comes to college, applicants would like to maximize the amount of aid that they get. Yet, most will tell you that the process is confusing at best with no clear instructions. Another aspect in this regard is that each college has a different process and amount for scholarships. This leaves you feeling like the promised money is just out of reach! Sign up for the Common App and you can submit multiple applications for scholarships to numerous foundations. The App provides information about sources of aid and features tools that help you compare the aid offers. This makes it easy to pick the right one for you.

The common app includes a key essay component, and these essays are perused by every school that you apply to. Some schools may also have specific additional essays to be covered in addition to those in the Common App. As these essays are critical, top admissions consulting can help you navigate them better, and submit apps that differentiate you as an applicant. On the Common App, you can also explore videos and tips to prepare better for your journey to college.

There are many sections in the Common App application. To ensure you submit a complete and perfect application, it features a ‘ready tool kit’ offering tips and best practices. This checklist helps you navigate the process successfully from start to finish.

Once you have made a list of colleges, alerts about approaching deadlines are sent to you through the tracking app. You can also download the mobile app for easy tracking while on the move.

What is the Common App Fess? and How much?

The Common App is free to use. However, some colleges charge a fee, while some others do not. For instance, 45% of the members here do not charge an application fee. Those who must pay a certain sum towards the application will have to do so at the time of submission.

You can claim a fee waiver by indicating financial hardships. Students can also reach out to individual colleges to find out if they qualify for such a waiver. This fee waiver request will be included in every application form that you submit.

Students will be considered for a waiver if they satisfy any of the below conditions:

Sections of the Common App

Once you have registered a profile on the Common App, it is easy to create a list of colleges that you are interested in. A FERPA registration is critical as it allows your school to communicate with the university. It also makes it easy for recommenders to access your profile and submit letters of recommendation.

It is important to know when you plan to start your term. The university can suggest the right deadlines for you based on this information.

Let’s get a quick look at the various sections in the Common App:

Profile Will include important details that relate to your name, citizenship, contact information-email, phone, etc.
Family Members of your family and other related information is part of this section.
Education This section must be filled in with care. Information such as your high-school grades, courses, ranks, and GPA must be submitted here. It is best to sit down with all the transcripts and information so it is accurate.
Testing   Students can enter their ACT or SAT scores or a proposed date when they intend to take it. Indians can enter their senior secondary results (Entrance test scores must be sent in whenever available).
Activities You can list activities that can strengthen your candidature. The word limit is restricted here. This is a critical section. Top colleges and universities look for evidence of skills in areas beyond academics. They also look at these activities as evidence of leadership potential and of passion along a specific area.
Writing This section is divided into three parts. The personal essay gives you an opportunity to talk about yourself. The app has prompts that help you understand the expectations of the colleges. Then the Disciplinary History and Additional Information are the other sections where you can provide further details with regards to your school.

These sections are common for most applicants but some colleges may need additional information. For instance, some schools request letters of recommendation. Here, recommenders will be able to attach the letters to your application. Apart from this, there may be college-specific information which may be attached as well.

How To Plan Your Path To College As A High School Student – Start Early

Since you are aware that Common App requires the activity list and all your academic and non-academic engagements to be mentioned starting from Grade IX to XII, here is how you can begin your work early-

Grade IX: This is an exciting year to begin new things, explore your options and interests, and which opportunities you can grab.
  – meet your school counsellor and discuss your options
  – get involved in activities that peak your interests
  – select courses that challenge you/explore
  – talk to your parents about the expenses and colleges

Grade X: Now it’s time to develop and strengthen what you learned in the previous year. Solidify what made you curious.
  – study skills: participate in olympiads, debates, etc.
  – better your time management skills: have a schedule
  – develop critical thinking: take advance courses
  – comprehension skills: start preparing for SATs/ACTs. Better your vocabulary.

Grade XI: This year is to focus on your grades, external projects, entrance exams for colleges, and have a holistically driven profile in making.
  – set goals for the year: plan out your tasks and adhere to the schedule.
  – take PSAT/NMSQT. It will increase your chances to score better on the SAT.
  – complete your initial list of colleges and decide the courses/programmes, or not (if you want to apply as an undecided applicant)
  – study well, prepare, and register for standardised tests in time
  – plan your senior year class schedule
  – create your common app account and start researching about the unknowns (if any)
  – find your recommenders and speak to them about the process
  – visit campuses in person (if possible) or virtually
  – narrow down the discussed college list

Grade XII: The final year is to reap the results, and stay focussed on the last minute critical work that comes your way.
  – make sure all the fulfillments are completed from your end and you are on track; don’t miss anything/document(s)
  – finalise your college list and start filling the form
  – retake SAT/ACT, if necessary
  – submit all the required supporting documents online
  – make sure to submit the FAFSA form if you are applying for tuition aid
  – review your acceptances and make an early decision
  – prepare well for board exams and fulfil all the travelling necessities

How does the Common App help International students?

International students do have to worry about additional paperwork. The Common App makes things quite easy as it lists out the things required quite well. The majority of the sections are similar; however, payment is where things become different.

One of the most obvious things is the matter of citizenship and residency. Schools and colleges charge a different application fee for domestic and international students. Once this is determined, the payment will be processed based on whether you live in the US or outside. Flywire processes the fee for international students.

The Common app seeks to make things easy for students and yet, there is a lot of uncertainty and doubt when it comes to submitting an application. The importance of seasoned and knowledgeable counselors cannot be understated. Apart from the guidance in submitting applications correctly, students will benefit greatly from their expertise in picking the right schools and colleges for your interests. Therefore, it would be ideal to use the Common App platform in conjunction with counselors who can guide you in the right direction.


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