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  • Debra M. Shively

What is the Common Application?

Updated: May 26, 2020

After attending several Secondary School Tertiary Expos around Sydney the last few months a common question is ‘what is the Common Application?

To assist, we have written an article on the Common Application and have outlined the recent enhancements for the 2017-2018 application.

The Common Application is an undergraduate college admission application system which allows applicants the opportunity to select and apply to member institutions from one online application form. Member institutions include over 700 institutions (of the over 4,000 degree granting institutions in the US) in all states with the exception of North Dakota. They are colleges and universities from the public and private sector, large and small student populations and varying levels of competitiveness and application requirements.

In addition to being an application portal accessed by over three million students, parents and advisors per year, the Common Application website serves as a useful tool in discussing the US admission process, financial aid, scholarships and much more. We encourage anyone considering studying in the US to review the website.

Based on industry and client surveys, the Common Application has made the following enhancements for the 2017- 2018 application as outlined below:

  • Self reporting high school grades - Students are asked to self report their marks prior to submitting official transcript. (Note: transcripts are considered official when they are sent/uploaded by the registrar at the student’s secondary school and sent directly to the nominated US institution). Australian students should ensure they include a scale of marks as the grading scale in Australia can differ within secondary schools which is again different from US grading scales.

  • Google Drive Integration - Students can now upload their essays, CV and other supporting application material into the Common Application from their Google drive.

  • Additional Essay prompts – To extend on last year’s essay prompts, two additional questions have been added. These include the opportunity for students to write about something they do that ‘makes you lose a sense of time’ and a ‘topic of your choice’. Each year essay prompts are announced in February to support the upcoming admission cycle.

  • Advisor and Recommender Enhancements - Students will have the capability to share their application not only with their school careers advisor but also with an external educational advisor or mentor. This allows the student’s support team to gauge progress and the ability to identify and provide additional support when required.

  • Recommender enhancements include the option for students to resend ‘recommendation invites’ to remind their identified recommender if they have not yet submitted a recommendation to support the student’s application. Note: students should provide their nominated recommenders several weeks lead time to complete and submit the recommendation.

  • Activities Options - Under the activities section of the application two additional options have been added: Internship and Social Justice. The drop down menu inclusions allows students to further demonstrate these interest and time commitments.

  • The sex indicator button (M/F) will now read ‘sex assigned at birth’ and a free text space is provided for additional comments.

  • Spanish Language Resource – Perhaps less relevant for Australian students, key information for using the Common Application has been translated into Spanish to assist students and their families.

You are also invited to watch the ‘What’s New with the Common App’ webinar:

Common Application US member institutions will also have an opportunity for students to apply directly to their institution from their website. From an admission point of view, it makes no difference if a student chooses to apply directly to the institution through their website or if they choose to apply via the Common Application. The Common Application was created for sake of ease and we encourage students to take advantage of its offerings. If you find an institution to which you are considering applying is not on the Common Application, research the institution to find out the application options. These options may include applying to the institution directly or using the institutions respective application portal which is the case of the nine University of California campuses, Texas public institutions and New York state institutions, to name a few.

The US application process is long and complex and can feel overwhelming. We encourage students and their families to familiarise themselves with the application process as early as year 10 – one way to do this is to log on and create a Common Application account. At this early stage, complete as much information as you choose to familiarise yourself with the application format. Students are only able to submit applications for the upcoming academic year; however applications which have not been submitted will rollover to the next year meaning any information added to the Common Application once a student logs on will roll over to the next application cycle and will not need to be re-entered.

The common Application is an on line application system which simplifies the process of applying to its member US universities. Seven hundred of the over 4,000 degree granting institutions are members. We particularly like the Google drive integration and the advisor and recommender enhancements. For those taking advantage of the option of begin the application process as early as year 10, the ability for the system to roll over from year to year is a definite advantage.

Internationally Educated assists students and their families through the selection and application process for United States universities. Debbie Shively, founder of Internationally Educated is a Sydney-based expert in the field of US higher education including college admission. Her career includes Assistant Director of Admission at Menlo College, the business school of Silicon Valley in Atherton, California as well as 1.5 years volunteering at EducationUSA through the US State Department at the US Consulate whilst undertaking a Masters in International Studies at the University of Sydney. She has subsequently worked with both Australian and US universities in admissions, marketing, and operations, completed a College Counselling Certificate from University of California San Diego and is a member of the International Association for College Admission Counselling. Debbie has worked in the International Education field for over 17 years. During this time she has led admission review committees and read thousands of student applications for admission.

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