Common App FAQs

Every year we come across a number of questions that are frequently asked by students applying to college in the U.S.

We've listed them here to help you complete your Common Application.

If you have any suggestions for further questions we might add, please don't hesitate to contact us at:

1. What is the Common Application?

It’s one of the best ways to apply for undergraduate study.

It saves you time as over 600 colleges in America (and 33 overseas as well) accept the Common Application.

This means you only need to complete one application and you can apply to as many colleges as you want (as long as you meet their entry requirements). Although in practice, it’s best applying to no more than 4 to 6.  

2. How do I apply?

You apply online at 

As well as the application itself you’ll find detailed step by step guides and videos on how to complete the application.

It also features essential information on member colleges and the courses they offer. 

Detailed information on filling out the Common App can be found in our guide.

3. Should I apply directly to my college or via the Common Application?

All of the 600 colleges who accept Common Applications have committed that you will receive equal preference regardless of whether you apply directly or through the Common Application portal.

Applying with the Common Application cuts down your time as its one application for multiple colleges.  

4. What grades do I need to apply to college?

All member colleges will have individual grades and qualifications for each of the courses you’re choosing to study.

It’s vital that you spend time researching the colleges section of the Common Application website as this will list all the grades you need for your specific course.

If you’re not sure which course or college is right for you, why not refer to Studential's Choosing A College and Choosing A Major guides, as well as the online ‘Common Application Requirements Grid'.

This will give you a quick overview of all the colleges, their course fees, deadline dates to apply and if they require extra supplements on top of the application details e.g. extra essays, portfolios of work etc.

This is likely in about 1/3rd of all member colleges.

5. Do I need anything else apart from my grades?

As well as your SAT/ACT grades, your school courses and credits and other academic achievements, you’ll need to complete all key sections of the application. It’s essential you write a 250 word personal essay.

This will be on one of 7 subjects specified in the application. Please read all of them and pick the one you believe is your strongest and you can write about with honesty and real life examples.

In addition you will be asked for information on your personal and family situation, and any extra-curricular activities.

This could be a school club or sport you take part in, or volunteer work at the weekend, or a paid part-time or summer job you have. Don’t be shy. This is your chance to shine and write a personal statement to show what a fantastic person you are.

Your school counsellor will also write a reference about you as a student.

6. When should I apply?

This depends on which college and course you’re applying for and whether you are a first year or transfer student (as you can apply via the Common Application for both).

The dates change if you’re applying for an early decision, early action or regular admission deadline.  The vast majority of students apply on the regular admission plan.

Please check your specific college deadline dates carefully. 

7. Can colleges see who else I’ve applied to?


Each college sees your Common Application in full except for the other colleges you’ve applied for in your “My colleges list”.

However, they will be able to read your personal essay that you’ve written so please make sure it’s not specific to one college.

8. What’s the difference between the Common Application and the Universal College Application?

The Common Application has over 600 member colleges and the Universal College Application (UCA) only has 43 college members.

The Common Application gives you a structure and key subjects to write your personal essay on whereas with the UCA you choose the subject you write about and its free style. You can upload multimedia content as well.

Each have equal weighting with the member colleges. If you’re applying to 4 to 6 colleges, ensure all of them are on the same application system and apply using that one.

If they are all on both consider the types of personal essay statement you have to write and aim for the one you’re best at. 

9. Are there any universities that don't use the Common Application or the Universal College Application systems?

Yes, some institutions have decided not to use either of these systems. Notable schools include:

As a general rule, public universities tend to have their own systems, and some colleges on the CA and UCA also offer their own online application systems.

To check if a school is on the UCA or CA, simply go to the list of UCA schools and CA schools, and see if the school is on the list (use a “CTRL-F” search to find out quickly).

If they don't use the Common App or UCA, they will outline specific instructions on how to apply which you should follow carefully to ensure you have met all of their requirement.

If you’re mostly applying to schools that don’t use the UCA or CA, for the few colleges you apply to that do use those applications, you might have a bit more flexibility.

Further information

For more tips and advice on putting together your Common Application for college, please see: