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Which College Applications Do I Need to Fill out?

Students can use a variety of different application platforms to apply to college. There are so many choices that it can get very confusing about which application to use for each college. Here is a breakdown of the options:

The Common Application is the most widely accepted application with over 700 member colleges.

These colleges include both large and small, public and private colleges. There is a decent chance, especially if the student is only applying to private institutions that the Common App is the only application they will need to fill out. However, colleges have "supplements" which sometimes require the student to answer questions or write essays relevant to the specific college. Some of the more selective colleges may require additional essays and short answer responses for admission. A college's supplement can sometimes take just as long to complete as filling out the entire Common App.

The Universal Application was established as an alternative to the Common App in 2007.

At its height, the Universal Application had approximately 70 member colleges. Now only 34 colleges accept the Universal Application. The member colleges also accept other applications too. The Universal Application has a different feel to it than the Common App so students can choose either option at a handful of colleges.

The Coalition Application is the newest alternative to the Common App.

The Coalition Application is part of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which is an organization made up of 90 member colleges working towards improving the college admissions process. This will be the first year the application is offered and the organization is actively working out the kinks of a new system. In fact, only a handful of Coalition colleges will actually be accepting the Coalition application this year. I suspect the list of Coalition colleges using the application will increase over time as long as they can offer a reliable alternative.

Institutional applications are now more common at large public and state universities.

For example, the University of California, with its multiple campuses throughout the state, has its own application allowing them to ask the questions that fit their process best. Institutions with their own applications generally only accept that specific application. However, Wake Forest University still uses their own application, but they also accept the Common App and the new Coalition app too. Minerva is one of the only private institutions that uses their own application exclusively. In fact, Minerva only accepts their own standardized test as well.

BONUS: How To Decide Which College Is Right For You

The most commonly asked questions about applications are the following:
  • Are resumes important? It can help organize your activities and be used for job interviews, but most colleges want students to use the application section for activities instead of attaching a resume.
  • Is it possible to recycle pieces of one application and use it for another? Absolutely, as long as students personalize when appropriate. For example, if five colleges ask for supplemental essays about the student's academic interest, portions of the essay can be recycled with careful attention to include institutional-specific information to show the student has done their research on the college.
  • Do colleges know where else a student applies? No. Even if a college asks for this information on their application or the supplement, the student is not required to share this. There is no way for a college to know where else you applied unless you tell them. Sharing this information helps the institution get a sense of your interest in them and their competitors, but it also can pigeon-hole the student. If a college believes they are the "safety" school in the bunch, they might be less willing to admit the student because they are concerned the student wouldn't enroll if admitted. So, leave this question blank.