Do All Colleges Use the Common App?

When you head down the road in your college admissions journey of deciding to embark on completing your college applications, you sit down, open up your computer and stare at your screen, wondering “where do I begin?” Don’t worry. It’s not as complicated as you would think. Well, maybe it is, but, they say starting is always the hardest part. So, where do you start?

First, you need to determine where the schools that you want to apply to house their applications. This is not necessarily on their website. They may use a general application in their admissions process.

You May Have Heard Something About a Common Application and Wonder If All Schools Use It.

Unfortunately, the answer is no, all schools do not use the Common App (short for Common Application).

There are a variety of platforms that you can use to apply to colleges and not all colleges participate in all platforms. Let me break this down for you.

Common Application – Some Background Information

The Common App began in 1975 in the Northeast and spread to other parts of the country. Currently, there are 800+ colleges (and it grows each year) that participate in using the Common Application. This means that you can apply to any college that participates using this application, with this application. So what does a “Common Application” mean? Well, you have a portion of the application that houses all of your general information, such as your address, family and high school information, activities, honors and awards, and your personal statement. You only need to complete this once and this information will be sent to ALL of the colleges you list in this application.

Use the Common App If Possible

Once the Common Application becomes available for the current year (August 1), you can then begin to add the colleges to which you want to apply, respond to their individual questions (e.g., what major are you applying for, what term are you applying to (fall, spring, summer), activities you may be interested in at their school, and possibly supplemental essay questions that the college wants you to respond to). Once you have completed all of the general questions, as well as the school-specific questions, you can then submit your application. Simple! Well, not necessarily simple but what I will say is that the Common App is the most straightforward and user-friendly application that I have used with my students. What does this mean for you? My advice is if a college you want to apply to uses the Common App, use the Common App to apply there! It’s your easiest way to do so.

The Coalition Application Is Another General College Application Form

The Coalition Application was developed in 2007. 150+ colleges participate in this application and the foundation of why it was established was for “Access, Affordability, and Success”. The consortium of colleges that are allowed to participate in the Coalition Application have to meet certain minimum criteria, such as having a minimum graduation rate and meeting a certain percentage of financial need for a student. Some will disagree that the Coalition meets these criteria, but that is a blog for another day. The Coalition also touts that students can begin their application process earlier, providing access to students that may not otherwise have these resources and that they provide guidance through a student’s college journey. The issue is, will those students even know the Coalition exists?

What I will say is that the Coalition Application is somewhat cumbersome to use, not nearly as user-friendly as the Common App. Here’s the thing. There are some schools that use the Coalition Application exclusively, such as the University of Maryland. So, if you want to apply to that school you have to use the Coalition Application. There are some schools that use the Coalition and also a proprietary application, meaning that their university has their own application that you can use to apply. There are times where if I have a student that only has 1 college that uses the Coalition Application and not the Common Application, but that school has a proprietary application, because I am averse to using the Coalition Application, I have that student complete the college’s proprietary application. It just is simpler than having to navigate the Coalition Application. They have made some improvements over the years, but it’s just not where it should be as far as ease of use.

Certain Colleges Require Students Use their Proprietary Application

A proprietary application can also be referred to as an individual application for a college. This is an application that is only used by that one college and when you complete and submit it, your application is only submitted to that particular institution. Potentially, this can be a lot of work, but if you want to apply to that particular college, you have to use their application. That is if they don’t participate in, let’s say, the Common Application or Coalition Application. Why don’t these schools use one of the shared platforms to make it easier for students to apply and also to potentially have more students apply to their school, since then applying would be more accessible? I’m not sure. I’m thinking they have their reasons, I’m just not sure what they are. Some schools that only have a proprietary application are Endicott College in Massachusetts, MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, University of Alabama, and also some fine arts institutions, to name a few.

Some Colleges Utilize a State School Specific Application

There are a few states that use a common application for students to apply to their state schools. New York is one of those states. It uses the SUNY Application. This can be referred to as the “Common App” for the state universities of New York colleges. If you know you are only applying to SUNY (State University of New York) schools, you can choose to apply using the SUNY Application. As with the Common Application, you can enter all of your general information and then select the SUNY schools you want to apply to and voila, you can now submit one application for a number of state of New York schools. I’m not a big fan of the SUNY Application. If all of the SUNY colleges that my student wants to apply to are housed in the Common App, then I still suggest they use the Common App (as I noted above, I feel the Common App is the most user-friendly and straightforward). You may feel differently, I’m just providing you my opinion. But, there are some SUNY schools that don’t use the Common App, such as FIT. If you want to apply to FIT you need to use the SUNY Application. Oher states that have a common application for students to apply to their state schools, include Texas, which uses Apply Texas and California, which uses the UC Application.

So, there you have it, the answer to your question, “Do all schools use the Common Application? The answer is a resounding no but, now you are aware of the varying kinds of platforms that colleges do use to allow students who want to apply to their school to apply.

How to Find Out What Colleges Use the Common Application

To find out which college uses what platform, you can visit their website or, since so many schools are being added to the Common App each year, go to the Common App web site and see the list of all of their participating schools (

I hope this information helps in the maze of completing your college applications.