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Will Using the Common Application Platform Impact My Chances of Admission?

Due to the high stakes involved in the college application process, many students and families are concerned that using the Common Application platform to write and submit application materials like the activity list, essays, recommendation letters, and more, can adversely affect a student’s chances of admission. The fear is that colleges give more attention, and therefore more consideration, to applicants who apply directly rather than through the Common App. These questions and fears are based on misconceptions about the Common App in specific and the application process in general. To better understand these misconceptions, let’s start with a summary of the purpose and origin of the Common Application.


The History of the Common Application

The Common Application was created in 1975 as a tool to help students who did not hail from wealthy backgrounds afford to apply to multiple colleges. Rather than pay different application fees for each application, the Common app allowed students to fill out one paper application and pay one fee to apply to several colleges. The popularity of the Common App exploded with the advent of the internet, and there are now over 800 colleges and universities, both in the United States and internationally, that utilize the Common App. In fact, almost a third of the colleges on the Common App have no separate application process, meaning it is only possible to apply to those schools using the Common App. In other words, if you’re using the Common Application, you only have to enter your information (activity list, essays, recommendation letters, etc) once, and you can submit that same application to any college that subscribes to the Common Application platform.

There are over 800 colleges who are a part of the Common Application, but over 4000 college and universities in the United States alone. This means that there are far more colleges who do not use the Common App than do. A small number of colleges participate in the Universal Application, the Coalition Application, or Common Black College Application, while the majority of institutions rely solely on their own, proprietary applications. Most of the ‘popular” colleges, including the Ivy League, famous liberal arts schools, and most state colleges all ask that students submit their application through the Common Application platform. MIT and the University of California system (UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis), however, are two examples that do not subscribe to the Common App platform, asking instead that you use their own application found on their respective websites.


Why Do Colleges Use the Common Application?

The primary reason colleges subscribe to the Common App platform is to increase the total number of applicants to their school. Their line of thinking is that by subscribing to the platform a student is more likely to apply to their school given that he/she only needs to press “submit” without having to fill out another application. It is to a college’s advantage to increase the number of total applicants not only to collect additional application fees, but also to appear more selective to the public. Since they accept the same total number of students, but have more students apply, their overall acceptance rate declines.


Should You Use the Common App?

I can assure any student or parent reading this that applying to a school using the Common App platform will not negatively or positively impact your application. It is simple a tool available to you to reduce your workload and to colleges to allow for the influx of more applications. It is, however, what you include in your application that matters. The same can be said of submitting a digital application through a college’s website versus submitting a paper application. However, you’d be hard pressed to find colleges that today prefer the latter. Find activities that inspire passion and dedicate yourself to them. Challenge yourself academically and put in the work to achieve the best grades possible. Participate in life outside of class and develop relationships with teachers, mentors, peers, and friends that will inspire truthful and enlightening college application essays. Be the person who is as much wanted by the college of your choice as you want to attend that college. Stand out by being uniquely yourself. The Common App is just a tool. How you use it is what matters.


Livius Prep is not sponsored by or affiliated with the Common Application, Universal Application, or any particular application platform.