Everything you need to know about the Common Application
Part 1 of a 4-part series
If you have your heart set on pursuing your undergraduate studies in the US, then you will need to fill out the Common Application form. With access to nearly 800 colleges and universities, this online application eases the tedious process of filling out separate forms.
The Common Application covers your academic history and extracurricular activities, along with your other accomplishments from grade 9 to 12. On August 1st every year, the member colleges go live with their individual requirements, which include essays and questions specific to the college.
The Common Application rolls over, so you can start entering your details while you are still in grade 11 and complete it later. To begin working on your Common Application, all you need to do is create an account here.
One of the most important parts of filling out the Common Application is shortlisting colleges. To make an informed decision, make sure you research the colleges you want to select. There are many ways to do this: In-person visits, virtual tours on the college website, reading specific department pages and following colleges on social media.
Once your college list is ready, you are ready to move on to the four basic components of the Common Application:
Your profile is where you indicate the classes you are taking, your demographic information, school information and information related to your family. You will also have to enter your standardized testing scores. Remember to either take the SAT or the ACT and not both. The SAT II subject tests are, however, recommended if you wish to study at a competitive college in the US. Much of the information required in this section is self-explanatory, but be sure to enter it in a way that is concise and clear to an international audience.
- Activities and honours:
Colleges in the US love students who are engaged in extracurricular activities and take initiative beyond academics. This space allows you to demonstrate your involvement and resourcefulness. List everything that you have done outside the classroom between grades 9 and 12, including leadership activities, sports, community service, art projects or anything else you can possibly think of. Avoid using acronyms of festivals and conferences that you have participated in, and ensure that everything is comprehensible by non-Indian readers.
This is the thought-provoking and a significant part of the Common Application. Through the Common Application essay, you give the admissions officer an insight into the kind of person you are, your passions or certain aspects of your life that are integral to who you are–something a grade sheet will not be able to reflect. Additionally, you will have to write supplemental essays depending on the colleges you shortlist. The topics for these can be anything from why you would like to study in a particular college to the failures you have faced in your life and more.
- Recommendation and FERPA:
Finally, you need to include letters of recommendation. Usually, three recommendations are requested, of which two are from teachers who have taught you in the 11th and 12th grades, and one from your school counselor. These letters of recommendation help the admissions officer understand you from the perspective of a person who has taught you and observed your performance and growth over the years, both within and outside the classroom. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 requires that students be advised of their rights concerning educational records, such as letters of recommendation. While you are free to respond as you wish, if you choose not to waive your right, some recommenders may decline your request, and some colleges may disregard letters submitted on your behalf. In other words, FERPA gives you the right to inspect recommendations before they are sent to your colleges.
Though creating the Common Application account is free, every college charges its own application processing fee. The application deadline depends on whether you are applying for early decision (typically November 1st) or regular decision, which is typically on January 1st.
There are various resources on the Common Application website that make the application process easier. To prevent clashes with your school exams, read about when to take your standardized tests or shortlist college. If you would like more guidance with the process, get in touch with us.