Common Application Pros and Cons for 2013-2014

So it’s time to apply to college – no, it’s time to apply to colleges – as in like 7+ schools.  The exciting prospects of getting into college, living away from your parents, partying like a rock star and of course maybe one day having a job are currently being overshadowed by the arduous tasks of writing admissions essays, filling out applications, requesting letters of recommendations, taking standardized tests and breaking up with your high school sweetheart.  So much to do!

Well, the non-profit organization, The Common Application, feels your pain.  Their mission, “providing reliable services that promote equity, access and integrity in the college application process” basically breaks down to users being able to submit one uniform application to every school they wish to apply.

The benefits of using the Common App include an easy to use interface to organize all the schools you plan on applying to, the opportunity to submit applications early and of course, only having to write a single version of your personal statement that will be used for every single school.  The Common App definitely saves time and makes applying to multiple universities much less daunting. And with member colleges able to include supplemental information that is unique to their school, it makes a lot of sense to fill out one common application and send it out 7+ times.  Nevertheless, there are potential drawbacks to using one application for schools that are likely very different from one another.

Over 500 universities across the world including Harvard and Columbia accept the Common App.  It is a popular alternative to applying school by school and even the College Board, maker of the SAT, suggests using the Common App.  However, if you want to attend college in the most beautiful, amazing, absolutely spectacular place on the planet, California, then the Common App may not help much.  The University of California system, which governs the most applied to university on the planet, UCLA, does not accept the Common App.  But this may simply mean that you fill out both a U.C. application and a Common App – still much easier than 7+ applications.

The more significant concern is the personal statement, or main essays.  The Common App strongly suggests creating one single application and not submitting different personal statements for each school.  That means that the essay you write for your “safety” school will be the same essay you submit to Harvard.  Ideally, you have crafted a stellar application that demonstrates why you’re an excellent candidate for any university.  However, by never tailoring your essay, you forfeit the opportunity to weave into your story why Harvard, for instance, is the university you were born to attend or will more closely help you achieve your goals.  Additionally, applicants who take advantage of the Common App typically submit applications way in advance of deadlines.

The problem with this, as Josh Stephens from The Huffington Post points out, is that accomplishments your Senior year from September to November such as club organizations, student government and academic achievements, will be missed opportunities for personal statements because applications have already been submitted.  Drafting personal statements is the most time consuming piece of the application process but in a world with inflated GPAs and eager beavers joining every school organization possible, committing to stellar essays can make the difference between getting accepted and not.

Regardless of using the Common App or applying to each school individually, the strength of your application is going to come from your academic prowess and moreover, the story you craft that makes you unique, successful and ready for the next chapter in your life.  How a university receives your application won’t matter if you’re just another common student applying to college.

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