Questions About the Common App

Hi everybody,

I’m a little confused about the Common App. If I plan to apply to multiple colleges, do I just fill out the app once and send it to all at once, or do I have to fill it out again and again for each college I apply to?

Also do not all colleges participate in Early Decision?

Does every college have different essays that need to be written, or do they all use only the Common App essays?

Finally, is the Common or Universal app better?


Google Common Application and look at the list of schools. It’s pretty extensive, but not my any means is it “all colleges.” Of the 10 or 12 schools my son is looking at, I think 5 use the Common App.

Some of your questions will be a function of how your school College Placement office operates. I imagine you’ll get answers in the fall. (Remember, you’re new at this, but they’re not.)

Likewise, not all schools participate in Early Decision (or in Early Admission; they’re not the same.)

You will fill out most parts of the common application once (personal information, the CA 650 word essay, etc.). Certain parts are exclusive for each school you will be applying to (institution specific essays (though not all schools have these) and some other institution specific questions). When you are finished your whole application, you will pay a fee to each school and your whole application will be sent off (both the shared and specific components I outlined above). Then you rinse and repeat for each of your schools.

Not all colleges participate in Early Decision. Some have Early Action only and others do not have any “early” admissions rounds. To my knowledge, most do have ED though.

The Common Application and Universal Application are identical in how they are viewed by schools, but one of them might be “better” for you as (I believe) they have different essay prompts. Most applicants use the Common Application, and some schools may not even accept the Universal App.

Good luck.

Thanks for the information! There was one other thing I need clarified: I was looking at the early decision policies of various schools I plan to apply to soon and a lot of them had conflicting policies about early admission. Some of the colleges won’t allow you to apply to other private universities if you apply early admission to them. So do some schools only accept early decision but not early action? Can you apply early decision to one but early action to the others?
Is it not possible to apply to all the Ivies early action?

Schools usually only have either an early action or decision policy. I believe it is possible to apply to an early action AND decision (providing that the early action school is not Single Choice Early Action like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale are, in which case, you can only apply to one of these schools in the early round and nothing else), but you are still obligated to enrol in the early decision school if you are accepted.

For example, if I apply to MIT as EA (early action) and Penn as ED (early decision) and I am admitted to both of them, I will have to reject my MIT offer and go to Penn (special circumstances barring).

You cannot apply to all the ivies in early action because not all of them have early action policies. I believe only Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have SCEA (single choice early action) policies. The rest of them have ED policies only.

I did some research, but I’m still confused about the difference between SCEA and ED. Don’t they both prevent early applicants from applying to other private institutions?

Yes, but with ED, your are obligated to enrol to the school. With SCEA, you can still choose to apply to other schools during RA and enrol in them if you choose.

Then what is the difference between SCEA and early action?

You can apply to several schools EA. SCEA is, as its name states, single choice. You cannot apply to two schools under SCEA.

SCEA is Single Choice Early Action. This is non-binding. This is where you are allowed to only apply to one private university early. Examples include Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton. You will find out in December if you are admitted, rejected, or deferred.

EA: This is just early action. You apply earlier and receive your decision earlier. It’s NON BINDING. meaning that you get the benefit of finding out early but you do not have to commit to attending if you get in. You can wait till May 1st. Your senior year will be less stressful if you get an early admit, and you will still be able to compare financial aid packages from your RD schools as well. You will find out in December if you are accepted, rejected, or deferred. UChicago, for example has EA.

ED: Early Decision. This is the BINDING option. You apply early,(Nov 1) get your decision early, (mid December) but if you are accepted you are legally bound to attend (unless there are extenuating financial circumstances). This is typically for your first choice and usually admit rates are a bit higher for the ED round. Of the Ivies, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia and UPenn have ED.

You need to check each schools’ rules regarding SCEA though. Some may allow you to apply to public univerities (like your state flagship) without breaking the rules.