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College Applications: The Common Application

It goes without saying that you can apply to fifteen schools by filling out fifteen college applications, but did you know you can also apply to the same number of schools by only filling out one application? I know; it's twisted.

The rhyme and reason behind the madness is that there exists in this college admission world something called the Common Application, which 346 different American colleges and Universities accept in lieu of a school-specific application.

The Common Application for College Admission

Here's the Common Application's mission statement:

"The Common Application is a not-for-profit membership organization that, since its founding over 30 years ago, has been committed to providing reliable services that promote equity, access, and integrity in the college application process. We serve students, member institutions, and secondary schools by providing applications - online and in print - that students and school officials may submit to any of our nearly 350 members. Membership is open to colleges and universities that promote access by evaluating students using a holistic selection process."

The Common Application was a document originally conceived in response to the fact that most schools evaluated students strictly on an objective basis - they looked at your high school grades and test scores. The organization's founders thought that students should be evaluated on a much more subjective level, so they instituted this application that included an essay section, letters of recommendation, and what they call "broader campus diversity considerations."

The actual application you fill out will be very similar to the school-specific applications non-members require. Fill in all of the standard information: where you're from, what your parent(s) are named, where you went to high school and whether you've earned any honors or distinctions.

This is stuff that you'll get really good at filling out; the college application period of your life will almost certainly be the first time in your life that you repeatedly fill out boring information over and over again. Expect to thank the Common Application after the whole process is over, though. They'll be the ones who saved you a great deal of time by allowing you to send their application to more than just one school.

You can check to see which schools are members of The Common Application by clicking here.

School-Specific College Applications

The unfortunate news about school-specific applications is that they more or less request the same amount of information as the common application does. It's just that each school-specific application is filled with unique twists and tweaks that make it slightly different from the format of the common application.

Some schools may ask for three letters of recommendation. Some may want to see you submit two essays. A number of schools require a "Why would you like to attend our college?" essay. Just remember that almost every school that requires you to submit a school-specific application form will also require you to submit a different amount of supplemental documents, recommendations, or essays. Keep track of what each school wants and make sure to send the proper requirements.

Application Fees

Most schools will ask for a small fee with your college admission application. Only 5% of America's colleges and universities have an application fee over $50. If a student is struggling financially, that $50 makes a difference.

Fortunately, there are programs established that help erase this burden. The College Board's SAT Program Fee-Waiver Service is one. Designed to help students forgo paying SAT registration fees, the service also helps students avoid paying application fees to up to four different schools so long as the student is applying to a school that's willing to cooperate with the program.

Consult the College Board's 2008-09 Directory of Colleges Cooperating with the SAT Program Fee-Waiver Service to find out if your desired schools are listed.

Some colleges have created their own systems to determine whether or not a student should be waived of paying the fee. Some ask that you fill out a form, while others request that you submit the request in a letter. Check with each school to learn about their specific policies before you submit your application and application fees.

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