Common University Applications Used in the US

Jun 2024

8 Minute Read

Tagged as: How to Apply

A discussion of the Common App, UCA, UC System applications

The process of applying to American universities is fairly streamlined. Many university applications are similar, which makes life much easier for families and for students. Let’s talk about three of the applications a student is most likely to fill out.

1. The Common Application

This application, which is used by nearly 700 schools, is the largest application of its kind. Prestigious institutions like Johns Hopkins and NYU use this application, as well as some smaller, private institutions like Pepperdine University in California. This one is fairly predictable, even though not all schools will require the same things. For instance, some schools require the student to answer some questions about themselves, while others do not.

The main section is a basic application that all schools the student applies to through the portal will see, and it includes the following sections:

  • Profile: covers the student’s demographic, citizenship, and basic contact details.
  • Family: information about the student’s parents/guardians and siblings.
  • Education: asks for information on all schools the student has attended, grades, courses they have taken, and honors, among others.
  • Testing: information about the student’s test scores, including country-specific exams. (An example of a country-specific exam is the A-level, taken by students in the UK.)
  • Activities: a student may list up to 10 activities they have participated in, including school extracurricular activities, hobby clubs, music lessons, internships, and philanthropy work among others.
  • Writing: an essay between 250 and 650 words long. Students may select from five topics, which change yearly and may be viewed on the Common Application’s home page.

There are a few specific questions each university will ask. These questions are usually about financial aid or general questions about the student’s life. Each university also has their own form for submitting letters of recommendation.

2. The Coalition Application

The Coalition App is similar to the Common Application in many ways, but it is used by a smaller number of schools. What sets the Coalition App apart from other major application systems is that it only partners with institutions that offer significant financial aid to their applicants. In this way, the Coalition App is meant to help students from underserved populations attend college.

Like the Common App, the Coalition Application has an extensive "Profile" section, in which you will answer several questions about your demographic background, educational experience, test scores, and extracurricular activities, among other questions. The Coalition App also has six essay prompts that you can choose from to write your college application essay. (Be on the lookout for an article going over these prompts soon!)

The Coalition Application also offers users a unique "Locker" feature, which allows students to upload an unlimited amount of portfolios, essays, videos, or other application materials that they can then use on applications. You can also invite users like your parents, counselors, or mentors to help you manage your account.

3. University of California application system

The UC system uses one application for all of California’s esteemed public universities. Unlike the Common Application, where a student might answer different essay questions for each school, the UC application requires more in-depth information about a student’s intended major or school they wish to join. For example, the UC San Diego application asks students to list their top three choices for the undergraduate college they would like to be a part of. This will influence what kind of classes a student will take to complete their degree.

After the student has completed the basic information section, they will move on to the "Campuses and Majors" section, where they will choose which universities they will apply to (such as UCLA, UCSD, UC Davis, or UC Berkeley), and their intended major at each. Once this is complete, the student will need to fill out the following sections:

  • Scholarships/financial aid
  • "About You"
  • Academic History
  • Activities and Awards
  • Test Scores
  • Personal Insight: This is the essay section of the UC application, but it is a bit different than most. The student will choose four out of a series of 7 or 8 questions to answer about themselves and their plans. These responses need to be around 200 words each, rather than completing a single larger essay.

There are many universities that use their own applications. However, many of the most prestigious schools can be found through these portals, so it's important to do your own research.

If you need help navigating the college application process (including writing application essays!), download Occam's free app, Wend, on the App Store.

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