What Parents and Teens Need to Know About the Common Application

By Huntington Learning Center

The process of researching, applying to and deciding on a college can be overwhelming for teens. But if there’s one aspect of the process that’s much easier than it was years ago, it is filling out the application—or more specifically, the Common Application.

The Common Application lets students complete a single application that shares the details of their background, education and activities with multiple colleges on their list. It’s a great way for college-bound students to save themselves valuable time and stay organized with the various college-related deadlines.

Here are some of the most important things you need to know about the Common Application:

  • More than 800 public and private colleges and universities accept the Common Application. To find out whether a college uses it, search the Common App’s database or view the latest (as of August 2018) listing.
  • Applicants may submit applications to up to 20 colleges. A student’s dashboard inside the Common Application database lets them keep track of up to 20 colleges.
  • Deadlines are made easier. The Common Application dashboard shows application deadlines of each college a teen is tracking. A date becomes red and displays a clock symbol next to it when a deadline is within two weeks. Teens can also download the mobile app: Common App on Track on their mobile device.
  • To make the application process efficient, teens should have certain information on hand. Parents, have your teens assemble their high school transcript, extracurricular activities list, test scores and test dates (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests), and parent/legal guardian information (including educational background, occupational information and employer information).
  • There may be other items to submit. Keep in mind that colleges usually want supplemental information in addition to the Common Application. They might request answers to specific questions, letters of recommendation and writing supplements.
  • Each college has specific writing requirements. As mentioned, first-year (freshman) applicants are usually required or encouraged to submit samples of their writing. Those might include the Common App Personal Essay (for which writing prompts will be provided), answers to college-specific questions (e.g. details on a work experience or meaningful extracurricular activity) or an additional writing supplement. Check out the Common Application’s Writing Requirements resource for details on what each college seeks.
  • Early Decision applications are binding. When students apply Early Decision to a school and are accepted, they must agree to withdraw all other applications they have submitted. For this reason, students can only apply to one school this way using the Common App.

The Common Application is a major timesaver for students who plan to apply to several colleges. It’s easy to get started: just start an application, add colleges to your list, review their requirements and start gathering the materials you need. Have your teen visit www.commonapp.org to learn more and begin searching colleges.

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