Are you wondering which schools use Common App? If you’re a high school student thinking of applying to college, you’ve probably heard of Common App. A heaven-sent for applicants, this centralized application portal streamlines the admission process and allows students to submit just one application to reach multiple colleges. Common App has a huge number of member schools in the US, from Ivy League schools such as Yale and Harvard, to public schools such as the State University of New York (SUNY) and Mississippi State University. However, not all schools in the US utilize Common App and it’s crucial to know which ones do, so you can strategize your application plan and make the best use of your time during application season.

In this blog, we provide a comprehensive list of all the schools that use Common App. We also describe the key application components of Common App, the alternatives to Common App, and list a few tips to make your college applications stand out.


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What is Common App?

Common Application, often referred to as Common App, is a centralized online portal for undergrad college applications that is used by schools in the US, Canada, and many other countries across the world. The college application process involves many components, from college essays and letters of recommendation, to detailed academic history and test scores. Portals like Common App aim to simplify, streamline, and centralize this process for the convenience of both students and schools.

Common App was founded in 1975, with only 15 participating colleges. In those days of paper applications, the intention was to make the college application process more efficient, transparent, accessible, and affordable for students. Today, Common App is an online-only portal used by 900+ schools across the world! Their goal remains to make the admissions process easy and simple for students. That’s probably why so many schools continue to use Common App and every year, new schools are added to their member schools’ list

How Does Common App Work?

Thanks to Common App, rather than submitting a separate application with individual components for every university, you can submit one single online application for multiple universities with common elements like personal information, education history, essays, activities, letters of recommendation, etc. In your application, you indicate which colleges you want to apply to, and the member colleges will review your Common App submissions to make the final admission decision.

You can apply to as many as 20 colleges, but remember that while Common App is free, each school has their own application fee, and these can end up being quite hefty when added up.

To apply, you need to create an account at the Common App website and upload all your information in the relevant tabs. A new version of the app comes out on Aug 1 every year for the upcoming admissions cycle, but you can create an account at any time and start entering information. Common App also offers a mobile application to enable students to track deadlines and receive reminders on their phone. Additionally, Common App offers a “practice application” option for students who want to practice creating their application before actually submitting it. You should take advantage of this feature to get familiar with the application format and review the requirements. 

While a lot of schools use Common App, it’s important to remember than not every school accepts it. Some schools have their own application system while others favor alternative application portals. That’s why, it’s very important to know which schools use Common App so you can determine your target schools list and prepare for college admissions. 

List of Schools That Use Common App

Schools in the USA that Use Common App

The following tabs show the list of schools in the US that use Common App, arranged by state. You can use the arrows to navigate to more tabs.

Schools Outside the USA that Use Common App

The following tabs show the list of schools in countries outside the US that use Common App, arranged by country. You can use the arrows to navigate to more tabs.

Notable Schools that Do Not Use Common App

While a huge number of universities use Common App, there are some that prefer other portals or have their own application system. Generally speaking, religiously-affiliated universities and military schools do not use Common App. A few public or state schools also prefer to use their own admissions application system. Here are a few notable schools that do not use common app:

  • Berea College
  • Brigham Young University—Provo
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Georgetown University
  • James Madison University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Rutgers University
  • Texas A&M University–College Station
  • United States Air Force Academy
  • United States Military Academy
  • United States Naval Academy
  • University of California (all 9 campuses)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of Texas–Austin
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Military Institute
  • Washington and Jefferson College
  • Yeshiva University 

Components of Common App

Once you’ve created an account and Common App is open for submissions (usually, August 1 or later), you’ll be able to enter your application information in a form with various tabs. There are several different application components that are required to help colleges make their assessment. 

Remember that the admissions requirements for each college vary and what might be mandatory for one college, could be optional for another. The great thing about Common App is that once you select the colleges you’re applying to, the system shows the admission requirements for each individual college. Make sure you check the admissions websites of the schools you’re applying to as well, so that you know exactly what you need to submit and by when.

Common App has the following key components:

Learn all about different college app systems in our video:

Alternatives to Common App in the Admissions Process

Common App is the oldest and most prolific college admissions portal in the US and Canada, with a huge number of member schools, including quite a few international universities. This generally means that the majority of students applying to college will end up using Common App. As you can see from the list above, generally speaking, private and liberal arts schools tend to use Common App. All the Ivy League universities as well as top non-Ivy League schools like Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Caltech, etc. use Common App.

However, there are still plenty of schools that have their own application system or use an alternative online application portal similar to Common App. What’s more, quite a few of these schools do not use Common App at all! This is why you must figure out which application systems your schools of choice use and consider the logistics of using multiple application systems.

So, what are these alternatives? Let’s learn a little more about them: 

Coalition App

This is an online centralized college application system started in 2016 by the Coalition for College Access, Affordability, and Success. Almost all member colleges of this organization use the Coalition App for their admissions process.

This portal is both newer and boasts fewer member colleges as compared to Common App. However, there’s a reason for this limited college membership. Coalition App was created for a specific purpose: to help make the admissions process easier for typically disadvantaged applicants, such as first-generation college goers, students from socio-economically underprivileged backgrounds, etc. That’s why this portal has specific criteria for member colleges: they must accept students from diverse socio-economic, cultural, and geographic backgrounds, offer low-debt financial aid that meets full financial need or offer lower in-state tuition rates, and have high graduation rates for students from all backgrounds.

The application format and sections are also focused around encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For instance, in the Coalition App activities section, there are additional activity “types” such as Family Responsibilities or Academic Activities, which students can use to explain their unique situation and why they did not have time to take on the more traditional extracurricular activities. They also ask students to only identify their top 2 activities and the remaining are unranked, unlike Common App in which students have to rank every activity.

Coalition App also offers a “locker” feature which allows students to store critical documents such as essays, research papers, recommendations, certificates, etc., from the 9th grade onwards. This is a huge boon for students who may not have their own digital devices to store important documents.

While this app does have fewer member schools as compared to Common App, many of the top schools do use it. Over 150 colleges participate in Coalition App, including 6 of the 8 Ivy League universities: Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, UPenn, and Yale, as well as state universities such as the SUNY (NY) system and University of Washington. Other notable schools that use Coalition App include Rutgers, Stanford, Caltech, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley, and more.

To see the complete list of schools that use Coalition App, refer to the official Coalition App website

Universal College Application (UCA)

The UCA portal is also a centralized, online, US-based college application portal. However, it’s used by very few colleges, including Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Charleston. What’s more, all of these universities also accept Common App. This portal isn’t a very popular choice because of its limited reach. However, some students who are applying to schools with their own application system and the above 3 schools may find it more convenient and easier to use than Common App. UCA does have an interface that’s easier to use. 

Individual Application Systems

Some schools have their own application systems which they may use along with the above mentioned portals or instead of the portals. Public schools tend to have their own application system. For instance, University of Texas and the SUNY colleges have their own application systems, but they also accept alternatives such as Common App and Coalition App, while MIT and the UC schools do not accept any other portals except their own. 

So, Which College Application System Should You Choose?

First of all, remember that colleges that use multiple application systems have no preference for which system the applicants use. If they use multiple systems, it’s simply to encourage as many students as possible to apply and to give students more options to make their application process streamlined. That’s why when you’re deciding which application system to use, the focus should be on the schools you want to get into. At the same time, you should ensure you make a strategic decision to minimize work for yourself and maximize chances of success.

Applications can be time-consuming, and you should be streamlining the process as much as possible so you can give your best efforts to applying for your dream schools. Of course, it’s possible to utilize common application elements across portals, but this isn’t always feasible as each portal has its own format and requirements. For many students, it’s better to try and prioritize one application system and focus on completing the college application on time.

For instance, if most of the universities you’re applying to use Common App, it makes sense to use that portal rather than any other portal. Common App is the most used application system with the largest number of affiliate colleges. So, if you want to use just one application system and avoid the challenge of completing multiple applications, you’re most likely to find colleges that are a good fit with Common App.

However, there might be other factors which could influence your decision. For instance, if you’re a California resident exclusively applying to UC schools, then you might not need Common App at all! Alternatively, if you’re a New York resident applying mainly to schools that welcome students from diverse backgrounds and provide financial aid for students in need, then using only the Coalition App might make sense for you.

The key to your success is developing a strategy for applying that makes the best use of your time and avoids unnecessary additional work. Ideally, you should have 1 portal through which you’re applying to most of your schools, with 1 or maximum 2 additional portals to accommodate a few other schools, if needed. You really don’t want to go through the strenuous end-to-end application process on more than three different platforms!

Wondering which are the easiest Ivy League schools to get into? Check out our video below:

Tips to Make Your College Application Stand Out

Many students work hard throughout their high school years to meet the admissions criteria of their dream schools, taking on multiple challenges such as completing taxing IB or AP courses or joining summer programs for high school students. Yet all that effort could easily be wasted if they don’t invest time and effort in crafting a stand-out application that effectively communicates their best qualities. So, how do you make sure your application stands out and get you those coveted acceptance letters? Don’t worry – we’ve got some expert tips to help you in your mission!

1)   Start Early

One of the most critical mistakes you can make during the application process is to leave the application submission until the last minute. There’s simply no reason for you to add extra stress and pressure to your life by leaving things to the last minute! Starting early enables you to prepare each application component thoroughly and leaves you plenty of time to check and re-check every aspect of your application. Remember that you need plenty of time to craft a well-written essay, seek out (and if necessary, write) your letters of recommendation, and complete the activities section. These elements simply cannot be managed in a hurry.

Moreover, Common App receives tens of thousands of applications every year and processes applications for over 900 colleges. Their interface is known to be not very user-friendly, and due to the huge number of applications, they can’t always respond to technical queries promptly. If you leave your submission till the last possible minute before the deadline and run into technical problems, you could potentially miss out on this application cycle altogether!

When should you start? Ideally, towards the end of your junior year. Common App essay topics are released around spring, so you can start working on your essay during your summer before high school. You should also aim to notify your referees and ask for your letters before your junior year ends, so that they have the summer break to work on them.

At the latest, you should not delay starting work on your application beyond the beginning of your senior year. You will need at least 2 months to work on your application components and it’s really better to give yourself additional time on top of this, to deal with any emergencies or delays.

Writing a common app essay? Check out our tips and example:

2)   Select Schools That Are a Good Fit

Many students underestimate the importance of using research and strategy to select the schools they’re applying to. If the majority of the schools you’re applying to are a wrong fit for your profile and vice-versa, you’re bound to get mainly rejections. To identify the schools that will be a good fit, you should take into consideration their admission statistics and criteria and weight them against your own achievements. Here are some of the key aspects you need to consider:

  • Average accepted GPA and standardized test scores of the matriculants
  • Mandatory coursework required by the school
  • School’s mission statement and values
  • School’s demographic or residential preferences/requirements for admission

Your list of schools should mainly include universities that, on-average, accept students with your profile and types of achievements. For instance, some schools have mandatory in-state quotas which means the process for out-of-state applicants is much more competitive. Alternatively, some schools may prioritize applicants with extracurricular activities that demonstrate values that match their own, and they may not consider any applicants who do not have the adequate amount or type of extracurriculars.

So, make sure you study the composition of their matriculating class as well as all the elements of their admissions process to determine if you’d be a good fit before applying. That way, you’ll maximize your chances of success and avoid disappointments in the future.

3)   Demonstrate Excellent Written Communication Skills

A key quality that colleges look for in applicants is excellent communication skills. This means that not only your essays, but also your descriptions for activities, need to be perfectly written and structured. Make sure your essay is clear, coherent, and concise, with a compelling intro and conclusion, and a logical flow. Your essay should present a cohesive narrative of you as an applicant, while being further supported by the rest of your application components.

Ensure you review every component of your application for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, coherence, structure, flow, and so on. Nothing can turn off an admissions committee as quickly as glaring spelling errors in a college essay. Remember that in Common App, you don’t have the option to go back and edit essays once your application is submitted. So don’t submit your essays till you’ve triple-checked your work and feel 100% sure about the content.

4)   Choose the Right Activities/Experiences

Your list of activities is one of the most important aspects of your application. Most colleges today look for applicants who demonstrate curiosity as well as excellence in avenues beyond academics. The activities section of your college application is where you can really show that you have the essential qualities they are looking for.

Generally speaking, most schools seek applicants who demonstrate critical thinking, maturity, academic potential, and innovation. While your academic potential is demonstrated via your GPA, your activities allow you to showcase the other qualities from this list.

There’s a huge array of extracurricular activities that students can choose from to build their high school resume. Yet most apps have a limited amount of space available for extracurriculars. Common App only allows 10 entries, and they need to be ranked, so you’ll need to think carefully about which of your activities to include and which ones to mark as important.

When making this decision, you should consider what types of activities might be favored by the schools you want to get into. For instance, some schools prioritize applicants whose experiences align with the schools’ own values and missions. The best pre-med schools often include community engagement and social service as part of their key values and look for students who have completed meaningful volunteer work at a variety of organizations.

Also, prioritize the activities that show your commitment to a particular cause, organization, mission, etc. and where you have a clear trajectory of progression, learning, and improvement. For instance, if you volunteered at a shelter where you were eventually promoted to team leader and executed several successful fund-raising events, that is more meaningful than a one-off conference or debate you attended.

Finally, think about what makes you unique. Are any of your activities exceptional? Have you accomplished something unique through any of your extracurriculars? What will make you stand out from the crowd? This is particularly important if you’re applying to Ivy Leagues and top schools, where practically every applicant will have numerous extracurriculars to boast of.  

5)   Choose the Right Referees

It’s very important to identify the right referees, who can write letters of recommendation that complement your own narrative. For instance, you might be targeting the best undergrad business schools and claiming to have a flair for economics; but if your performance in your AP Econ class wasn’t memorable, your teacher won’t be able to back up your claim. So always make sure you select the right referees who can honestly contribute to the narrative of your application. Ask for letters from mentors, teachers, or supervisors who are most likely to write you a stellar reference and under whom you performed well.

There are a few other measures you can take to ensure you get a good letter. First, as mentioned earlier, it’s crucial that you ask for the letter as early as possible. The referee will appreciate that you respected their time. Also, when you approach your referees, make sure you discuss your key achievements to jog their memory of what you did. Take along key documents like reports, papers, transcripts, etc. to help them write your recommendation.

Some teachers may ask you to write your own letter of recommendation, which is a great opportunity to craft perfect letters for your application! However, it’s not exactly an easy task writing a letter of recommendation for yourself, so make sure you take your time to craft a measured, well-supported letter that highlights your key achievements.

FAQs

1. Do Ivy League schools accept Common App?

Yes, all the Ivy League schools accept Common App. Some of them also accept other application portals such as Coalition App and UCA.

2. How many schools can I apply to via Common App? What does it cost?

You can apply to a maximum of 20 schools, and each school will charge a separate application fee. However, Common App in conjunction with the member schools does offer fee waivers for students who can prove their financial need.

3. What are the benefits of using Common App?

Common App not only streamlines and simplifies the application process for students, but it also provides a few other perks to make applications easier. For instance, you can use their website to browse colleges and finalize your choices. They list the additional, specific requirements of any college that you select as part of your application so you can refer to the requirements as you fill out your form. They also offer a “practice run” to allow students to practice crafting their application and get comfortable with the format.

The greatest benefit of using Common App is the reach of this portal. With over 900 member colleges across the world, and over 800 colleges in the US alone, Common App is extremely convenient to use for the vast majority of students applying to colleges. Moreover, Common App is also the oldest college admissions application portal and has been around for several decades, which means, counselors, teachers, and parents are more likely to be able to guide you through how to use it.

4. Do all schools in the US accept Common App?

No – not all schools in the US accept Common App. While most of the top schools and liberal arts colleges do use it, many state and public schools as well as smaller, privately-run schools affiliated with the military or a religious body eschew Common App in favor of their own application portal.

5. How can I make my college application stand out?

To make your college application stand out, you need to ensure you start working on it as early as possible, to give yourself enough time to work on the various components and check your work for errors and inaccuracies. For instance, your application should show excellent communication skills and that might require months of careful brainstorming, writing, and editing. Next, colleges today prefer robust applications that demonstrate the students’ non-academic interests and prowess as well as their academic achievements. So, make sure you add appropriate extracurriculars and highlight your own learning and growth through them. Also, remember that your letters of recommendation are absolutely critical and should back up the narrative presented in the rest of your application. Finally, maximize your chances of success by researching school admissions statistics and selecting schools where you’re a good fit and therefore more likely to be accepted.

6. What are the alternatives to Common App?

Many schools, especially public or state schools such as the UC system, prefer to use their own application portal and admissions process. Some schools use their own system along with Common App so you can choose which platform you prefer.

There are two alternative application portals: Coalition App and UCA. Both have their own unique features, advantages, and disadvantages as compared to Common App; for instance, Coalition App is used mostly by schools that welcome students from disadvantage backgrounds and provide ample financial need-based funding.

However, Common App is the most convenient choice for most students simply because no other application system can match its huge reach in terms of member colleges.

7. What do I need to submit on Common App?

In your Common App form, you will submit the following: personal, contact, and family information, education history and GPA, test scores, list of extracurricular activities with descriptions, information about your referees, personal essay, and your supplemental essays (if required for the colleges you’re applying to).

8. How should I decide which application portal to use?

This decision should be made after carefully considering all the facets of your situation. Firstly, which colleges do you want to apply to? Which colleges would you be a good fit for? Which colleges would best meet your educational ambitions while their admissions requirements match with your profile? Once you have made a shortlist of colleges based on these factors, you can then consider the application portals they use.

To save yourself time and ensure you don’t get bogged down by too many submissions during application season, you should try and keep the number of portals you use to 3 or fewer. To achieve this, you may have to employ some strategic thinking as there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to which colleges use which portals. Many schools accept multiple portals so you may have to select which one to use. Your best bet is to select the portal that allows you to apply to the maximum number of colleges on your list via one application, and supplement it with a couple of additional portals, if needed.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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