What Is a Common Application Essay?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A common application essay is an essay a student can complete to satisfy the personal statement portion of applications to multiple colleges and universities. Students may submit this essay through a central application database that includes a large number of colleges and universities that all agree to accept a standardized common application. Some schools require students to submit through a common application system of this nature, while others allow students to choose between an application specific to a particular school and the common system. The common application essay can also be used when students fill out one application to apply to multiple campuses within a state college or university system.

The common application essay allows students to demonstrate their writing skills.
The common application essay allows students to demonstrate their writing skills.

The common application essay has a simple prompt students must respond to. The essay allows students to demonstrate their writing skills and also provides some insight into the student's experiences and personal history. Often, the statement asks students to discuss personal matters like important events from their past, or why they want to pursue higher education. This information can be useful for an admissions committee as it evaluates a student's suitability for a given educational institution.

Some schools accept a common application essay and also request that students fill out a supplemental essay. When preparing college applications, it is important to carefully review all the requirements, including all the deadlines. If the school requires a supplemental essay beyond the common application essay, the deadline is typically the same as for the rest of the application, but the student may need to follow a separate procedure to submit it, since she must ensure that it reaches just one college or university.

One of the advantages of using a common application is that students do not need to repeatedly fill out paperwork. If a student wants to apply to eight schools and they all accept a common application, he only needs to fill in basic demographic data once, and can concentrate on polishing the common application essay for use in all of his applications. The system also stores information like letters of recommendation from instructors. In the event the student needs to apply or reapply to different schools, she can have that information sent again rather than needing to ask for a repeat letter of recommendation.

Schools usually expect students to complete the common application essay on their own, and they may need to submit a statement swearing that they received no help. Assistance with the essay can disqualify a student's application. Students who feel their essay writing skills are not up to scratch may want to write some practice essays and ask for feedback to learn about what works and what doesn't before they sit down to write their actual admission essays. Some high schools offer workshops to help students prepare college applications.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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