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What Is The Common App? A Canadian Student Guide

11 MAY 2022

As a Canadian student, it may feel overwhelming navigating your way through the US university application system. In Canada, you’re probably familiar with the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) process or applying to their program directly. However, despite the differences in the US and Canadian application processes, the US system is relatively easy to navigate if you have the right advice and support. For Canadian students looking to study in the US, this guide is for you!


What is the Common App?

The Common Application, more commonly known as the Common App, is an easy-to-use online application form that gathers all your information in a single space enabling you to fill out one central application that goes to multiple universities. When creating an account, you only input general information (name, address, extracurriculars, GPA, test scores) once.

More than 900 schools in the US and many worldwide accept the Common App. While the Common App is used more often than any other college application system, many colleges allow students to submit their applications through the Coalition Application and the Universal College Application.

How does the Common App work?

The Common App allows you to create an account, track your progress, monitor deadlines, and send requests for financial aid. The Common App is easy to use, and it is also entirely free to create your profile. Keep in mind that specific university programs require additional fees.

After creating a profile, you can choose from a wide range of schools. Once you select your universities, the Common App allows you to monitor and review your unique application’s requirements, deadlines, and individual progress.

When does the Common App open & when are the Applications due?

Each year the Common App opens up to students on August 1st and closes on January 1. If you want to stay ahead of the rush, you create an account and fill out general information prior to August 1 and send in your application after August 1st.

Application deadlines can be confusing. Depending on when you aim to apply to universities, the deadline may vary. On the Common App, you have three deadline options. If you wish to apply in advance, you can choose between Early Action and Early Decision. The deadline for these applications is generally November 1st. (Read below about the third deadline option — Regular Decision.)

If you wish to apply early, it is important to understand what option — Early Decision or Early Action — is the best option for you. While both options ensure that if you’re accepted, your spot is secured early (usually by mid-December), there is a critical difference between the two. If you are admitted through Early Decision, you must attend that university regardless of any other universities you have applied to or your financial status. Early Action, however, is not a binding decision. Acceptance to a university doesn't mean you are required to attend. You have the freedom to choose between various options and apply to more universities in the Regular Decision (RD) round.

If you don't want to apply early, the deadline for general admission is typically January 1st (the most common RD deadline). You can track deadlines on your Common App account and determine what route you want to take when applying to a university.

What Schools accept the Common App?

The Common App includes more than 900 schools, including several universities outside the US. You can comfortably explore all Common App schools online. You can also filter through regions, financial aid options, and even universities that require no application fees! The Ivy League schools and many non-Ivy League schools accept the Common App. Even though many universities are added to the Common App list each year, some schools, like the UC schools, Georgetown University, and MIT don’t use the Common App and have their own application systems instead.

College acceptance calculator

Key Components of the Common App

Personal Essay

An important component of your Common App is your personal statement. This essay goes to all of the universities you apply to, enabling admissions officers to better understand who you are as an individual. In 650 words or less, you must reflect on your accomplishments and provide personal anecdotes beyond your quantitative achievements.

At Crimson, we understand that all students are unique, and while some students find comfort in writing a personal statement, other students may find essay writing intimidating. After working with admissions experts, receiving essay support, and peer review, Crimson students feel confident in the essays they submit to admissions officers.

Supplemental Essays

Another key component of the application process includes supplemental essays. The Common App’s supplemental essay section is a space where you can include the additional essays your desired programs require. Universities typically have at least one supplemental essay.

5 Common App Essay Tips

Test Scores: SAT and ACT

When applying to US universities, you must submit your test scores, SAT and/or ACT, and other academic requirements like grades and school transcripts.

One key difference between the Canadian application process and the US process is the standardized test scores. The SAT and ACT are similar to the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) or other standardized tests offered to students within each province. When applying to US universities, you must submit your test scores, SAT and/or ACT, in addition to other academic requirements like grades and school transcripts.

Admissions officers consider your test scores when determining whether you will progress through the application selection process. At Crimson, we support students in their SAT and ACT preparation through personalized learning plans, online tutoring, practice tests, and extensive guidance.

Activities List and Awards

The Common App includes a section dedicated to your accomplishments beyond the classroom. Extracurriculars and awards compromise 30% of your application’s weight.

The Common App gives you ten spots to rank your best accomplishments. In a limited number of characters, you are asked to describe the nature of the activity, your role (leadership details), and how long you engaged in that extracurricular. For example, a student may talk about being a writer for their school newspaper and working their way to the editor in their final year of high school. In every case, ask yourself, "What does this activity tell the admissions officers about who I am, what matters to me, and how I will contribute to the campus community?"

For academic awards, students have five slots to rank their achievements, including a title, grade, and level of recognition. As with extracurriculars, it is important to highlight impactful awards and strive for quality over quantity. When it comes to compiling your list of accomplishments, start early and give yourself enough time to contribute to your activities and make an impact.

5 Common App Activities List Tips

Letters of Recommendation

The final section of your application includes three references, two from teachers and one from a school counselor. These letters of recommendation testify to who you are and what you can accomplish at university. They are a vital component in your application. Although teachers and school counselors typically write the references, there are situations where students, particularly Canadian students, may not have a school counselor with whom they have a close relationship. In cases like these, Crimson can help you determine suitable references for your application. 

How to fill out your Common Application

1. Gather Information

Before creating your profile, review your information to ensure you haven't forgotten anything important. Important information includes transcripts, personal and parental information, test scores, achievements, and letters of recommendation.

2. Create your Profile

Input your registration type. There are different registration types, including first-time, transfer, or international students. Select the' First-Time Student' button if you’re a high school student applying for an undergraduate degree.

3. Confirm your Schools

Once you’ve created your account, choose your schools of interest. While the Common App has over 900 schools to choose from, each school typically has their own application fees (unless you have a fee waiver). Once you have finalized your list of schools (we recommend you apply to roughly 10-12 schools), you can look for those on the ‘My Colleges’ tab.

4. Know the University Requirements

Do your research! Not all universities are alike, and some have entirely different prerequisites. Review the university requirements and your program requirements to include all the necessary information for your application.

5. Get a Head Start on your Personal Statement

You can view essay prompts before August 1. Use the extra time to brainstorm, organize your thoughts, and start writing the first draft of your personal statement.

Don’t forget to start the supplemental essays (many colleges ask for school-specific essays or short answer supplemental questions.)

6. Start your Application

Now you are ready to begin your applications. Start with the basic required information, teacher recommendations, and extracurriculars list. You can track everything through your Common App account.

7. Track your Progress

The Common App helps you stay on track and meet deadlines. A green check indicates which portion of your application is complete and submitted. These check marks allow you to track your progress while applying to multiple universities.

8. Submit your Application

Finally, submit your application to your desired universities.

Final Thoughts

Now that you've had a chance to familiarize yourself with the Common App, you may have additional questions about the process or how you can stand out to admissions officers. A great way to start paving the path to your dream university is to book a free one-on-one consultation with one of our expert academic advisors. They can build a personalized application plan for you.

Whatever you need, we are here to help! Click on the link below to get started!

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