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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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The Common App: Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re getting ready to apply to college, you’ve probably heard of the Common Application, also known as the Common App. Each year, more than one million students use the Common App to submit more than four million college applications. Odds are that at least one of the schools on your college list will accept the Common App, if not all of them.


To learn more about this how to use the Common App, don’t miss this post.


What Is the Common App?


Almost half a century ago, a handful of college admissions teams met with a goal of simplifying the college application process. They realized that by creating a single application for admission, students would more easily be able to apply to multiple colleges. They had no idea that their application would ultimately be used by millions of college applicants each year. The Common Application, which started in 1975 with just 15 schools, is now the most-used college application format in the country.


Over the years, the Common App has changed and adapted to reflect changing times. Once a paper booklet that students would have to fill out multiple times, today the Common App is fully digitized. Students are able to complete it once online, and then submit it digitally to as many colleges as they’d like. Despite its many changes over the years, the Common Application continues to reflect students as individuals, in and out of the classroom, offering the opportunity to highlight achievements that are both traditional and less conventional.


Which Schools Use It?


The Common App has grown immensely since its beginning. From its original 15 schools in 1975, its popularity has led more than 800 schools to now accept it. These range from top choices like Harvard and Brown to lesser known colleges such as Salve Regina.


Some schools you might know that accept the Common App are:

  • Duke University
  • Yale University
  • Williams College
  • The Ohio State University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • University of Southern California
  • Harvard University
  • Amherst College


To find what other schools accept the Common App, don’t miss our post Complete List of Schools that Accept the Common Application.


Who Should Use the Common Application?


Choosing which application to fill out when faced with several options can sometimes seem like a confusing process. Up until relatively recently, the Common Application was the only alternative for students who didn’t want to fill out each application specific to each college to which they planned to apply.


More recently, though, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has launched the Coalition Application, which is now accepted by more than 100 colleges. This application is similar to the Common App in structure. It requires the same basic statistics, like test scores, GPA, honors and awards, and extracurriculars. Even the essay options are fairly similar.


There are some smaller components that differ, however, such as the space and formatting allowed for the activities section and the exact classes and grades that are requested.


To decide which application is best for you, figure out which applications are accepted at the colleges you’re applying to. The one major advantage that the Common App has is that it’s accepted by nearly eight times the number of schools as the Coalition App. For more information about choosing between these two options, check out our post Common App Vs. Coalition App: Which to Use?


Tips for the Common App:


Brainstorm your essays early. The Common App releases its essay prompts several months in advance of its yearly August 1st launch. For the 2018-2019 cycle, essay prompts were available on January 12th. Having an idea of what you might write about, or even preparing drafts before fall of your senior year, can make the stressful applications process much more manageable.


Carefully word your activities and honors sections. You have 150 characters to describe each activity and award, which isn’t a lot, especially if you had many responsibilities and achievements. Be sure to quantify your description and be as specific as possible; rather than saying “guided many violinists through rehearsals,” you should opt for “guided 25 violinists through difficult passages in section meetings.” There is no need to put down ALL that you did (most people know what a “treasurer” or “captain” does), so if you don’t have enough space for everything, just list the details and accomplishments that stick out. For more information on what a successful activities entry looks like, read this post.


Get a second pair of eyes. There are many components of the Common App, so it’s easy to overlook a section or miss some typos. Get someone else to carefully comb through your app; it’s even better if they’re well-versed in college apps. That way they can tell you things like “National Honors Society” should be “National Honor Society,” and they can give you feedback on the cohesiveness of your application. Your application should portray who you are as a whole, and it shouldn’t feel like a jumble of disparate sections.


More Free Resources


It probably comes as no surprise to those of you familiar with the CollegeVine blog that we’ve covered the Common App in the past. In fact, we have lots of posts to help you navigate through the Common App to ensure that your best profile as an applicant shines through and that you don’t (gasp!) make any crucial errors in filling it out.


For general information about the Common App including which schools accept it, how it applies to transfer students, and how the application has changed over time, check out these posts:



For tips about filling out specific sections of the Common App, don’t miss these posts:



For the answers to some common questions we hear about the Common App:



For more help with the essay section of your Common Application, don’t miss one of our top posts, How to Write the Common Application Essays 2019-2020 (With Examples)


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.