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The Common App: What You Need to Know

"To reduce barriers that students face when applying to college."

This is the mission driving The Common App, originally developed in 1975 to streamline the application process for select colleges and universities. Today, the Common App is accepted by over 750 member colleges and successfully used by over 3 million students, advisors, counselors, and parents to manage the college application process every year. 

What does it do?

The Common App is a system that allows you to gather and organize all application information in one place that can then be submitted to the Common App member schools of your choosing. The system not only streamlines the collection of information, but helps students stay on top of application deadlines and manage school specific tasks. In short, it will simplify your life if you’re applying to multiple institutions that accept the Common Application.

Getting the Most from the Common App

Here are a few ways to make sure that you’re getting the absolute maximum value from using the Common App:

  • Create an account for yourself early in your high school career. Once your semester ends, log in and record your class and grade data from that semester. By keeping a running track of your classes and corresponding grades, you’ll have less to enter when it comes time to submit your official applications. By doing a little at a time, you’ll avoid the last-minute pain of procrastination.
  • Download the complimentary app to keep you on track. The Common App has a corresponding application called Common App onTrack available in the Apple Store and Google Play. It allows you to setup reminders, view college application deadlines, as well as see what details each school requires. By downloading Common App onTrack, your data will migrate to the new version of The Common App on August 1 every year.
  • Take advantage of Google Drive integration. Because more and more schools ask for examples of work, alternate essays, and other pieces of educational collateral, the Common App now integrates with Google Drive. This allows users to easily add files to their account from the G Drive account they used in high school. Consider creating a folder within your G Drive account specifically for work that you’re especially proud of so it’s easier to find when filling out the Common App.
  • Assign advisors to your account. Assuming there is someone (or multiple someones) guiding you through the college application process, you can assign advisors to the account to have them review your work, check in on progress, and help you master the application process. Typically this would be a parent, counselor, teacher, or consultant, or some other trusted person that may be helping you through the process.
  • Access the integrated financial aid functions. By accessing the integrated financial aid information, you’ll have a better sense of the expenses you’ll be facing at each school to which you apply. You should also be sure to run the net price calculator for each school you’re interested in. The net price calculator can be found on each school’s website and will give you an estimate of how much you might actually pay out of pocket to attend that school. To find a school’s calculator google “net price calculator” plus the name of the school. If you have questions about the financial side of things, ask someone knowledgeable to walk you through those decisions.

Three Dates That Matter: August 1, October 1, and January 1

Every year on August 1st, a new and improved version of the Common App is released and on January 1st there is typically a massive rush on the system to get all of the data input and applications sent to colleges. Therefore, making sure you’re entering your information between August and December is critical. Being on top of this process will make your last semester of high school much less stressful.

In addition, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available every year on October 1st.  While you are entering your information in the common app between August and December, don’t forget to also get your federal PIN (available from https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm) several weeks before October 1st so that you will be able to fill out your FAFSA on October 1st (available at https://fafsa.ed.gov).  The FAFSA is required by virtually every school; they use it to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Therefore, completing the FAFSA is another step in your college application process. 

While applying for colleges may have you and your family in uncharted territory, The Common App offers a Virtual Counselor feature that is loaded with fantastic advice by way of video content, articles, and how-to tips. If you’re applying for more than one Common App school, this handy tool will save you time and frustration. 

And while you’re looking at schools, remember to compare the overall costs of attendance using the Thrivent Student Resources Cost of College Comparison Tool. While the cost shouldn’t be your only deciding factor, it should absolutely be a consideration!

Even though this is an efficient process, look beyond the 750 or so schools that take the Common App even though it may require more effort on your part.  Use the Common App wherever you can to leverage your time, but don’t write off the many great and affordable schools out there that require their own unique application form.