College Admissions: Understanding the Common Application


What do the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States have in common? The answer is not a lot.

These schools are all different in many ways. The same goes for their student admission requirements.

University apps can often be very complex, with multiple parts. And as the number of people seeking a college education increases every year, the competition for admission also increases. So, students often end up applying to more than one school, which can be a lot of work.

This is why an increasing number of colleges and universities have started using the common application method, also known as common application. It started with 15 US universities in 1975. Today, more than 730 schools worldwide have students applying for admission this way.

Any student can use the common application as long as they are connected to the Internet. The system allows students to use one set of documents to apply to as many member schools as they wish, at the same time.

To get started, simply go to the Common Application website.

Sara Brookshire, Director of Admissions at Brandeis University

Sara Brookshire is Director of Admissions at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Brandeis, a private research university, has a traditional application process, where students can apply directly to the school. But Brookshire says less than two percent of its applicants do. Most apply through the Common Application website.

Brookshire says the goal of using this method is to reduce barriers for students and make the application process less stressful. Some colleges may feel that students show less interest in finding the best school for them using the common application. Some may think that students just want to increase their chances of being accepted.

Brookshire admits students could apply for admission to 730 schools if they really wanted to. But many schools that use the common application require students to pay individual registration fees. The process could therefore become very expensive!

Brookshire adds that students can no longer expect to enter the first or second school of their choice.

“So the hope was to be transparent in [honest about] the process, but also to continue to encourage [ask] students to be thoughtful,” Brookshire told VOA. “Find those eight to ten schools that are appropriate and exciting for you, and go ahead and just send applications [materials] for them.”

Like traditional college apps, the Common App website has multiple parts. The first is where applicants provide personal information, such as their gender, ethnicity, and citizenship. Students can also be asked what languages ​​they speak and details about their family. Brookshire says this type of information gives the school an idea of ​​who the candidate is.

The second part of the application is where students provide information about their educational background. This includes the high school they attended and their academic performance during the high school years. It also includes a list of courses students are currently taking and college-level courses they may have taken.

Brookshire notes that attention to detail is very important. Most colleges and universities ask for official documents from a student’s high school to confirm that what they are reporting is true. Dishonesty would therefore be a mistake. In addition, students should pay attention to spelling errors, as well as names or words used in email addresses.

Outside the George and Beatrice Sherman Student Center at Brandeis University.

Outside the George and Beatrice Sherman Student Center at Brandeis University.

The third part is where students list any awards or honors they have received. This is also where students list their activities outside of class. Brookshire thinks this part is one of the most important.

“What we do on the college side is try to understand the potential of a student [possible] worthy of our… community,” she said. “It has to do with which clubs [student groups] and organizations we think they could be involved with, what kind of impact [effect] they will have on Campuswhether or not we think they will…thrive [succeed] in a busy environment.

Brookshire suggests that students think carefully and list as many as they can in the activities section. Sports teams, volunteer organizations and part-time jobs are all good examples. But, she argues, candidates should also consider adding less structured activities. Most colleges want to see that students have lots of different interests. However, an applicant who demonstrates hard work and responsibility may also be attractive to admissions officers.

For example, says Brookshire, a student might talk about how they had to come home from school every day to care for an aging family member. This would explain why they did not have time to integrate a school bandaged or debate team.

The fourth part of the common request is the personal request test. This section shows a student’s ability to communicate in writing, as well as demonstrate critical thinking skills. Students must choose one of many open-ended questions about themselves. Then they have to answer the question in about 400-600 words.

Brookshire says it’s a chance for students to explain themselves in a way that other parts of the Common Application don’t. It allows them to be creative, while showing how they think and see the world based on their own experiences. She adds that when choosing which question to answer, students need to think about how the topic relates to the schools they would like to attend.

One of the previous questions looked like this: “Think of a time when you questioned a belief or idea. What influenced your thinking and what was the result? Brookshire says that might be a good question for a student hoping to attend a liberal arts University. Classes in this type of school often ask students to question their understanding of the world.

But Common Application member schools often request changes to application materials, and the essay questions change from year to year. The most recent form is released once a year on or around July 1. And as Brookshire notes, the more time students spend on the essay, the better.

Finally, the last part of the application is a teacher recommendation. This is where a teacher with a personal connection to the candidate writes a letter of support for the student. This letter describes the personal qualities of the student and why the college or university should accept them.

Students have no control over what the teacher might write. Brookshire therefore says that a student should probably choose a teacher who teaches a subject related to the field they want to study at university. Or students could ask a teacher which class they struggled in but succeeded in the end.

Brookshire suggests that a thoughtful letter from a teacher like this could show that the student never gives up, even when the going gets tough.

I am Dorothy Gundy. And I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Have you or someone you know applied to a college through the common application process? How was this experience? Write to us in the comments section or on our Facebook page.


words in this story

application(s) – nm a formal and usually written request for something, such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan

stressfuladj. make you feel worried or anxious

appropriateadj. just or suitable for a purpose or situation

excitingadj. causing feelings of interest and excitement

academicadj. of or relating to schools and education

spellingnm act of forming words from letters

Campusnm the area and buildings around a university, college, school

bandagednm a usually small group of musicians who play popular music together

testnm a short text that tells a person’s thoughts or opinions on a topic

liberal arts nm fields of study, such as history, language and literature, which aim to give you general knowledge rather than developing specific skills needed for a profession

recommendationnm saying that someone or something is good and deserves to be chosen


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