All you need to know about the Common App

If you’re thinking about studying at a US university, you’ll need to know your way around the Common App. It’s one of the most popular ways to apply to multiple colleges and universities in the United States. Stay tuned to get to grips with everything you should know about this online application system.

Here at The Profs, we specialise in university admissions, including US applications! We can provide you with valuable support to maximise your chances of success. So, don’t be shy to reach out to us if you’re serious about getting into your dream university.

We also have previous blogs on how to get into US universities as a UK student, as well as how to get into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, MIT, NYU and the University of California specifically as a UK student.


What is the Common App?

The Common Application, commonly known as the Common App, is an online platform used by hundreds of colleges and universities to simplify the college application process. 

What is the Common App used for?

Through the Common App, students can submit a single application to multiple participating universities, saving time and effort. With over 900 member institutions, including prestigious Ivy League universities, the Common App is a game-changer in the college admissions landscape.

How does the Common App work?

Students create an account on the Common App website and fill out one application form. This form includes personal information, academic history, extracurricular activities, and essays. The Common App then submits this information to the colleges and universities selected by the student. 

Some schools may require additional documents or information outside of the Common App, but the bulk of the application process is handled through this platform.

How do UK students apply to American universities?

UK students can apply to undergraduate programmes at American universities the same way that Americans do. Most US universities offer one more of the following application methods:

Always check how your chosen university would prefer for you to apply as this can vary.

Don’t forget that our team of experienced admissions experts are here to guide you through your US university applications. We have the knowledge and expertise to help you. From selecting the right universities and crafting a compelling statement of purpose to preparing for interviews and understanding the intricacies of the Common App, our tutors provide personalised support tailored to your specific needs. We have a proven track record of assisting UK students in gaining admission to top US universities, including Ivy League institutions and renowned medical schools. 

Contact us today to start your journey towards success.

Can I submit individual applications on the Common App?

As mentioned, you can submit one application to multiple universities via the Common App. Your main application, such as your registration information, reference/s, grade transcripts, and Common App essay, cannot be split into multiple formats. Hence, it will be one application that will be visible in the same format to each of your chosen universities. 

So, in short, the Common App cannot be individualised for specific universities. If this is important to you, you may want to apply to universities that accept direct applications so that you hand in something unique to each university.

However, it’s important to note that many universities on the Common App have unique requirements, such as college-specific questions and writing supplements. So, you can use this opportunity to tailor your writing to specific universities.

Can I apply to 20 universities?

Yes. The Common App allows you to apply to up to 20 universities. Your choices can even include universities from outside of the US. For instance, many universities in the UK, Europe, China, Japan and Australia accept the Common App. 

So, if you’re indecisive and you’d like to apply to a lot of universities in a range of different countries, then the Common App is for you. 

Just remember that more isn’t always better. You should do your research and be sure that you’re only applying to universities that would genuinely be a good fit for you. Also remember that it can be harder to write a Common App essay that appeals to 20 universities across the world, than one for 8 universities in the US.

Are Common Applications free?

The Common App is a free platform for students in the sense that it costs no money to make your account. However, some universities charge application fees, so you might need to pay a fee to submit your application. 

It’s good to note that 458 universities on the Common App do not charge an application fee for domestic students and 15 that do not charge a fee for international students.

The Common App fee waiver

Don’t worry if costs are an issue. The Common App has a fee waiver in place covering students for whom application fees are a barrier. 23,095 applicants received a fee waiver in 2017-2018.

To apply for the fee waiver, go to the personal information section of the Common App and answer “yes” to the fee waiver statement. Select the indicators in the list that apply to you and enter your signature.

For more information on application fees and the Common App fee waiver, see here.

How do I enter a discount code on the Common App?

Some programmes provide discount codes that can help offset application fees, ensuring a more affordable journey.

It is important to note that discount codes cannot be redeemed after you have submitted your application to the programme. So, if you are waiting for a discount code and it causes you to miss a programme deadline, it is necessary to request a deadline extension directly from your programme rather than from the Common App.

When you are ready to submit your application, follow these simple steps to apply your discount code(s):

  1. Click on the “Submit Application” tab located at the top of the application.
  2. Select “Submit” to proceed with the submission. If you are applying to multiple programs, choose “Submit All.”
  3. On the payment page, you will find the option to enter the discount code(s) provided by the program(s) under “Apply Coupon.”
  4. Click the “Apply Coupon” button to apply the discount code(s) to your transaction.
  5. Complete the remaining payment details pages as required.

Please keep the following points in mind:

  • If the discount code covers the total transaction amount, you will not need to enter any additional payment information.
  • If the discount code amount is less than the total transaction amount, you will be prompted to provide payment for the remaining balance.
  • If the discount code amount exceeds the total transaction amount, you will not need to enter any additional payment information. However, please note that any remaining balance offered by the discount code will be forfeited, as Common App for transfer does not issue credits or carry forward remaining balances.
  • It is not possible to apply discount codes towards chargeback fees.
  • If you have used a discount code during the submission process, you will find the code listed under “Payment History.”

Common App for transfer

The Common App for transfer is a platform designed specifically for students in situations similar to yours. The intention behind this is to simplify and streamline the college application journey, providing you with a seamless experience. With Common App for transfer, you can submit just one application to apply to multiple programmes.

Common App for transfer is here to support various groups of students, including:

  • Students who are transferring from community colleges.
  • Students who are transferring from 4-year colleges.
  • Military students, veterans, and their families.
  • Adults who are embarking on or returning to higher education.

Feeling overwhelmed? Need guidance? Just let us know and we can offer dedicated support.

Can I transfer from a UK university to a US university?

You can transfer from a UK university to a US university.

Generally, students must have completed at least one year of undergraduate study before they can apply for transfer admission. 

The amount of courses you can transfer to your US degree programme will depend on your grades and whether your chosen US university offers equivalent courses.

Find out about what Common App can do for international students here.

Why use the Common App, what are the benefits?

There are many benefits to using the Common App, let’s whiz through what Common App offers:

  • Saved time and effort: Rather than filling out a separate application form for each school, students can complete one form and apply to multiple schools through the Common App. This eliminates the need for tedious and repetitive form-filling.
  • Enhanced organisation: The Common App provides a centralised platform to manage all aspects of your college applications, including submission tracking and document uploads.
  • Access to a wide range of institutions: With over 900 member universities, the Common App opens doors to esteemed institutions across the globe, offering diverse academic programmes and opportunities.

If you need help with navigating the US admissions system and submitting the best possible application, allow us to help.

What colleges and universities accept the Common App?

Over 900 colleges and universities in the United States, as well as several international schools, accept the Common App. Notable schools that use this platform include Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and Duke.

Colleges who use the Common App

There are over 1,000 US colleges and universities across over 50 states using the Common App. Some of these universities are extremely prestigious and well-regarded. 

The list below documents some of the highest-ranking US universities using the Common App in alphabetical order:

  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • Carnegie Mellon University 
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins 
  • New York University 
  • Northwestern University 
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University 
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Florida
  • University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
  • University of Notre Dame 
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California 
  • University of Virginia 
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • University of Virginia
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University 

Many of these universities place highly beyond US rankings but in world university rankings!

Want to secure a place at any of these prestigious universities? The Profs can help! US admissions are our forte. 

Does Harvard use the Common App?

Harvard does use the Common App as well as the Coalition App. If you’d like insider tips on how to get into Harvard as a UK student, read our previous article on the subject! 

Completing the Common Application form

1. Create an account: 

To get started, visit the Common App website and create an account. Remember to use a unique email address and choose a strong password to safeguard your information. You can access the Common Application login here.

2. Profile and personal information: 

The Common App prompts you to provide essential personal details, such as your name, address, and contact information. Take your time to ensure accuracy, as this information will be used for communication with universities.

3. Academic history: 

Provide a comprehensive overview of your educational background, including your high school information, courses taken, and grades earned. Be diligent in entering accurate data to present a complete and reliable picture of your academic achievements.

4. Common App activities section:

Highlight your involvement in extracurricular activities, clubs, sports teams, volunteer work, and leadership positions. This section allows universities to understand your passions, talents, and contributions beyond the classroom.

5. Essay writing: 

One of the most crucial aspects of the Common App is the personal essay. Craft a compelling narrative that showcases your unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations. Choose a topic that reflects your personality and demonstrates your ability to articulate thoughts effectively.

Worried about any of these steps? Don’t be. Reach out for an expert hand in US university admissions.

Common App essay help

To apply to a US university, you are usually required to write a statement of purpose. Every platform has different guidelines regarding the statement of purpose. For example, the Common App has different prompts for this essay than the Coalition App.

On the Common App, some universities will mark the statement of purpose as optional, whereas others will deem it required. If it is optional for all your university choices, you may decide not to write one (however, it usually benefits your application to write a statement of purpose even if it’s not required by your chosen universities). 

The universities that make the statement of purpose optional will have university-specific essay questions they require you to answer. Some universities that require a statement of purpose still have supplementary short essay questions. Multiple universities also ask for additional written work. 

Consequently, it’s super important that you check the requirements of your chosen universities and complete your Common App accordingly.

If you want to nail your statement of purpose and/or your university-specific essay questions, then reach out to our expert US university admissions team and/or writing tutors. You can also check out our previous article on how to write a statement of purpose

How many Common App essay prompts are there?

There are seven essay prompts to choose from on the Common App. You can view the most recent ones here.

What is the Common App essay word limit?

The statement of purpose on the Common App has a maximum of 650 words. 

What is the difference between UCAS’s personal statement and Common App’s SOP?

There are many differences between the personal statement and the statement of purpose. Firstly, the personal statement is an essay required by all UK universities, whereas the statement of purpose is an essay that’s required by most US universities. Typically, students submit their personal statement via UCAS (the main platform for applying to UK universities). 

The personal statement is intended to be less personal than the SOP and more focused on academia. The objective behind it is to sell yourself to your chosen universities as the perfect student for your desired course and a good fit for the university’s community. Usually, students demonstrate their relevant academic achievements and prove their academic aptitude for their course. Extracurriculars are almost irrelevant if they are not connected to the student’s chosen course. 

However, the statement of purpose differs entirely in that it is a student’s chance to introduce themselves to their chosen universities. The SOP is supposed to demonstrate who they are and what kind of character they have. 

Due to the American university system, students might have not yet chosen their majors, and hence, they cannot talk about their passion for a specific course. The SOP might include personal stories pertaining to challenges they’ve faced or what drives them. Moreover, US universities love to hear about extracurriculars, even if they seem irrelevant! 

If you want to nail your statement of purpose and/or your university-specific essay questions, then reach out to our expert US university admissions team and/or writing tutors. You can also check out our previous article on how to write a statement of purpose. We also have a previous video on the UK’s personal statement.

What Common App prompt is best? 

The Common App prompts change every year, last year prompt seven was the most popular.

There is no objective better or best prompt. The best prompt for you is highly dependent on your life experience, voice and skills. The SOP is personal, so it makes sense that the best prompt is personal to you. 

When choosing your prompt, think about what affords you the most opportunity to showcase your good character and suitability for the course. Think about which prompt you can tailor most to tell the story you want to tell or highlight the achievements you want to mention. What prompt allows you to introduce yourself best and shows you in the best light? 

For guidance and advice, reach out to our expert US university admissions team and/or writing tutors

Can the Common App detect AI, like ChatGPT?

It appears that the Common App does not have a feature that checks essays for the presence of AI. However, Common App does not admit you, it’s merely a vehicle used to present you to your chosen universities and assess your application for admittance. 

Some universities may have systems in place to check for AI-generated applications, and those that don’t will still be very aware of the current popularity of tools like ChatGPT. Admissions staff are likely to look out for certain phrases, tones and sentence structures that point towards AI being used!

The point of the SOP is to generate something personal and unique to you; it’s hard for ChatGPT to achieve that and it’s almost impossible for it to capture your voice. Hence, it’s highly recommended that you write this essay yourself! There are many reasons to use ChatGPT:

  • Now that AI is so popular, many applicants could be using it. So, you will not sound original or stand out.
  • AI-generated writing is often mediocre and unengaging. You will have to rephrase and edit the work a lot to make it good quality and your own. At that point, you may as well write something yourself!
  • An AI-generated SOP will be generic and fail to offer personal insight into who you are, your character and your voice.
  • Admissions staff might be able to tell that your essay has been written by ChatGPT and think you’re lazy or unimaginative and decide not to offer you a place.
  • ChatGPT pulls its knowledge from the internet, hence it is often considered plagiarism to turn this work in as your own. So, some admissions staff could disqualify you as an applicant on the grounds of plagiarism.  

For expert help, reach out to our expert US university admissions team and/or writing tutors

Can my Common Application be edited after I’ve submitted it?

Once students have submitted their application to a college through Common App, they will not be able to make any changes to the parts of the application that have already been submitted. 

However, it is important to note that students are allowed to edit their Common App for other colleges to which they have not yet submitted. So, you can tailor your essay to specific universities which could really boost your application. 

It’s crucial to understand that once an application has been submitted to a specific college, any subsequent changes made to the Common App will not be reflected in the records of that particular college. Therefore, students should review their application thoroughly before submitting it to their desired college through Common App.

Common App essay examples

It’s a good idea to look at previous SOPs that did well. If you want inspiration to write the best essay or you’re just curious, check out Harvard’s successful essay examples from 2022. Harvard is one of the best universities in the US and it uses the Common App so these essays are a perfect exemplar! 

A lot of top US universities that use the Common App publish successful essays from previous years, so it’s good to check out the universities you’re interested in. Remember, they all have a different ethos and mission statement so they might be looking for different things in the Common App essay!

Are Common App applications in MLA format? 

The Common Application essay text box has limited formatting, as it only allows applicants to select: Bold, Underline and Italics. 

It could be useful to follow MLA guidelines e.g. using italics for book titles, foreign words, and those types of copyediting rules. However, there are no rules that state you need to use MLA.

How do Common App recommendations work? 

You need to add your teacher (or other recommender) to your ‘Invite and Manage Recommenders’ list. 

You must allocate them to a college so that Common App is notified to send that recommendation to that specific school. This allows you to determine which colleges receive what referral. 

There is a Common App for recommenders which enables you to organise and submit letters of recommendation. This can be used to track requests, manage your school’s information, and submit transcripts. There is much more information available on this here.

Who are recommenders on Common App?

Recommendation letters are usually made by teachers, counsellors, and mentors. Be sure to approach individuals who know you well and can provide insightful and positive recommendations. It’s even better if they’ve taught you the subject/s you’re most interested in. Just remember to avoid asking family or friends to write you a recommendation.

When is the Common Application deadline?

The Common App has specific deadlines for Early Action (EA) and Regular Decision applicants. 

For EA, the application and all required materials must be completed and submitted by November 1st. It is essential to ensure that all application materials are postmarked by this date to be considered for EA. Notifications regarding the application decision will be provided on or before December 15th. Applicants should note that EA is a non-binding option, meaning they are not obligated to make a nonrefundable enrollment deposit until May 1st. 

However, applying through EA allows applicants to receive their application decision earlier in the process. In the event that applicants are unable to submit all required materials by the EA deadline, the Common App will automatically roll their application to Regular Decision.

For Regular Decision applicants, the application must be submitted by February 1st, and all materials must be postmarked by the same date. Decisions for Regular Decision applicants will be mailed on or before March 15th. If an applicant is accepted, they will be asked to submit a nonrefundable enrollment deposit by May 1st. 

This deposit secures their spot in the freshman class and is credited towards their tuition and fees. The housing application will be sent to accepted applicants after the May 1st deadline by the Common App.

When does the Common App open?

The Common App opens in August. However, the system can be used for multiple helpful purposes whilst offline. For example, you can peruse over 1,000 colleges and universities accepting the Common App.

What are some Common App tips and best practices?

To ensure a smooth and successful application process, consider the following tips and best practices:

  • Start early: Give yourself plenty of time to complete the Common App and required materials before the deadline.
  • Follow instructions carefully: Each college may have specific instructions or requirements for their application, so read them carefully.
  • Personalise what you can: If your chosen college asks college-specific questions or for supplementary writing, tailor this to the college specifically and dedicate time perfecting it. Otherwise, customise your Common App essay before submitting it to each school rather than using the same generic essay for multiple institutions.
  • Be authentic: Your application should reflect your true self. Avoid attempting to fit into a mould or fabricating experiences. Admissions officers appreciate genuine and unique perspectives.
  • Ask for help: Reach out to your school guidance counsellor, teacher, or mentor for guidance and support during the application process.
  • Submitting your application: Before finalising your application, thoroughly review all sections to ensure accuracy and completeness. Proofread your essays and double-check your personal information. Once you are confident, submit your application electronically through the Common App portal. Remember to pay attention to application deadlines for each university.

Consider engaging one of our experienced admissions consultants for personalised, expert guidance!

Get 1-to-1 guidance from a US admissions consultant

Hopefully, this article has given you a comprehensive understanding of the Common App and how it can simplify the college application process. Remember, by utilising the Common App, you can present a compelling application to your dream universities. 

If you’re serious about getting into your dream US university, contact our admissions team. We are university experts; that’s why over 95% of our students get into their first and second-choice universities. 

We have countless success stories from our students, who’ve got into top universities like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley through our guidance. Why should your story be any different? Contact us to secure your spot.


Can international students use the Common App?

Yes, international students can use the Common App to apply to select colleges and universities in the United States. So, UK applicants and those from across the globe, don’t fret! However, if you’re applying to a US university from a non-English speaking country you will probably need to submit proof of your English language proficiency. 

Can I make changes to my Common App after submitting it?

Yes, students can make changes to their Common App after submission, but they will not be visible to the universities you’ve already submitted your application to. Some changes may require contacting the colleges directly.

Are all colleges and universities in the United States part of the Common App?

The Common App is the most popular system amongst universities in the US. However, not all colleges and universities in the United States use the Common App. Some schools have their own application platform or participate in alternative systems like the Coalition Application.

What are some important deadlines to keep in mind when using the Common App?

Deadlines vary by school. So, make a note of all your deadlines depending on your chosen universities and keep track of them. Important deadlines to be aware of pertain to your application, as well as for submitting additional materials like transcripts and test scores.

The main deadlines are the EA, which must be completed and submitted by November 1st, and Regular Decision, which must be submitted by February 1st.

Will Common App crash on November 1st?

Common App might not be stable on high-volume days like November the 1st, and it’s good to be aware of this and plan accordingly. However, it’s not guaranteed to crash.

Does Common App delete your account?

First-year students, whether they fall under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or not, will have the option to self-service delete their Common App account. This applies to both students who have already submitted their application(s) and those who still need to do so.

It’s important to note that account deletion only removes the information stored within the Common App itself. It does not remove any data or submitted applications that may be stored by colleges or other organisations. Therefore, if a student wishes to have their data deleted from these additional organisations, they would need to submit a separate account deletion request with each organisation individually.

Who is an advisor on Common App? 

This simply regards a type of recommender on your Common App.

Where is the Common App ID?

The Common App ID (CAID) is on the top right corner of each page of your account.

How does the Universal College Application differ from the Common App?

The Universal College Application is a for-profit application platform and has been accepted by two higher education institutions in the United States (since August 2023). Like the Common App, it was designed to apply to multiple institutions in one go. The objective was for it to be used by institutions of any size or type. Many of the schools that accept the Universal College Application also accept the Common Application. 

The Universal College Application does not align with a specific educational philosophy. Its requirements for schools to participate are primarily based on accreditation and adherence to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice.

Which app does the UK use; do all UK universities use UCAS?

UCAS is the centralised application system in the UK and hence, by default, it is the most popular system for applying to universities in the UK. However, a few universities allow direct applications for undergraduate study.

Where should I put NHS on the Common App?

National Honour Society (NHS) can be entered under the ‘activities’ section of your Common App. It’s considered an honour as well as an extracurricular activity.