The Common Application

The Texas Common Application, available at, is required for seniors planning to attend a major Texas state university and some two year colleges. Various private schools in Texas accept the common app, but require a school-specific supplement that needs to be completed (Baylor comes to mind).  Each university application process is different, so be sure to consult their admissions website for specifics on what application they utilize.

The National Common Application ( is used at a variety of schools across the United States, especially many of the larger elite schools. Schools you’d recognize include Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UVirginia, UMichigan, etc.  You may view the entire list here.

BENEFITS OF A COMMON APPLICATION  A single point of data entry for multiple institutions is the biggest benefit for using the “common app” approach.  Once they’ve successfully submitted their first application, they simply copy it for use at additional schools.  And it’s all done electronically!

Another major benefit of this type of application is that your student can work on it a little at a time which saves the overwhelming feeling they may have heading into the process. The information is saved as they progress through the sections. This is especially helpful if your student works, or is involved with athletics and/or fine arts programs during senior year.

Be Aware:  Information saved in the Texas Common Application does not transfer into the National Common Application, these are separate systems and require separate data entry.  Your senior will have to input their full set of data at least twice if they choose to use the national common app to apply to out-of-state schools.  As always, consult each specific university’s website for details.

DEADLINES:  Deadlines for submitting applications vary widely.  Check each university website for specific details.  In Texas, our experience found that if your student has everything submitted and it is received in the Admissions Office prior to November 1, your student will receive a decision rather quickly.

In Texas, if your senior is in the top 10% of their class (or top 8% for students applying to UTexas (top 2-3% for Business or Engineering @ UT)), they should submit their application in September, as soon as the registration system opens, to insure priority acceptance and to obtain priority registration for housing.  Housing decisions are based on the date that the housing application is received.

Warning:  Before I leave this section I must emphasize to please, please, please, not wait until the last minute to submit applications, make requests for transcripts to be sent, order test scores, or ask for a teacher recommendation letter (see future post).  Two weeks notice is standard for these requests.  While it is understood that your senior is your highest priority, they are NOT the only seniors needing these documents.  Katy ISD senior class sizes range from 700 to over 1000 students – do the math – that’s a lot of documentation being requested.  Failure on the part of your senior to plan to meet these deadlines does not necessitate priority handling for the professionals supporting your student in this endeavor.  Remind your senior to be nice, be polite, say thank you and do not make enemies of these people ={

WHAT’S INCLUDED ON THE APPLICATION:  It is recommended that your student print off a hard copy of the application so that they can see the information required on the application before they sit down at the computer to begin. (See previous post for pointers).

In some instances, you may have to provide them with the stash of documentation and papers that you’ve been hoarding away in your files, things like award certificates, volunteer service records, past report cards/transcripts and the like.  They will need these items.

Samples of blank applications for the Texas Common Application are available here.  The application is broken down into nine sections as follows:

1. Biographical – and before you ask, YES, you MUST include your financial information. Get over it.

2.  Educational Background

3. Test Scores

4. Residency  Information

 5. Extracurricular, Volunteer  Activities, Talents/Awards/Honors– From the website:  “Please list, in priority order, the organizations, activities, jobs and internships that indicate your special contributions,  talents, honors and abilities in the areas of extracurricular activities,  service and work. Include service and work done in the summer. Please spell out the names and describe the organizations in which you have participated.”

Hints about Community Service – Remember to list the individual works that were performed.  A  counselor from Texas Tech advised that putting Spartans Out Serving, or worse SOS (huh?), on your application with a total number of hours over four years, doesn’t tell  the Admissions Counselor how the student served, it only indicates that they were involved in a club with participation hours. It is acceptable to aggregate the hours for the club section, but when you get to the community service / volunteering area – SPELL IT OUT.

We found with our seniors, that they had several types of activities they liked to do every year that could be grouped  together to save space.  The application give you limited space, so it’s hard to list everything individually.

For seniors who have been active in volunteer service organizations like Spartans Out Serving (SOS), National Charity League (NCL), Boy Scouts, or Girl Scouts, the students have a hard record of what service work they performed, the dates served, what they learned, and how much time they dedicated to the activities.  These are invaluable when it comes time to entering hours on the application.  Additionally,  this information can be included on their Expanded  Resume (covered in a future post).

6. Employment  Information – employment, internships and summer activities

7. Custom Questions for This Institution (Incl Citizenship) –  this page will include questions particular to  the University and/or major(s) to which you are applying.

8. Scholarships  – A nice feature of the Common Application –  seniors apply for general scholarships, available to all applicants, at the same time that they apply for admission to the university.

Be aware however that there are additional scholarships available from  each university, generally found on their Financial Aid & Scholarships website, that must be applied for separately.

The information you  provide in the scholarship section of your application will not affect your  application for admission. If you activate your scholarship application, you must save the requested information on each page of the scholarship section  before you submit your application for admission.

You may cancel an active scholarship application at any time  prior to submitting your admissions application. You may also choose to apply for admission first and submit a scholarship application at a later date, as  long as it is prior to the scholarship application deadline.

9. Essays – covered in previous post

So that’s the layout of the Texas Common Application with a small taste of the National Common Application as well.  These are timesavers to be sure.  They are nothing to fear.

If your senior is like our two, they will be “busy as one armed paper hangers” during the fall semester.  We found that insisting on at least two applications a weekend during September and October was manageable.  So you’re asking yourself, “how many did they submit if they were required to complete two each weekend?”  Our son applied to twelve schools – this is NOT RECOMMENDED – he just couldn’t make up his mind to narrow it down to three or four.  He’s now a loud and proud Aggie at Texas A&M!

Our daughter applied to Texas A&M.

After much cajoling from her mother, and constant whining and moaning on her part, she grudgingly submitted her applications to Oklahoma and Texas. And although she was admitted to all three of these fine universities, she’s an Aggie through and through – Gig’Em Colleen!

RULE OF THUMB: Apply to three type of schools:

1. Dream School:  Your first choice pick.  aka, the school of your dreams.

2. A Stretch School: The school you’d love to attend but aren’t sure you make the grade (no pun intended)  These are often the schools your mother and father wish you’d attend – but remember, it’s your choice, not theirs.  Also keep in mind, they are probably paying for it (in most cases).

3.  A Safety School: A school you like, perhaps not your dream school, but one where you could see yourself attending, and have the grades and extracurriculars to get in easily.

Good luck seniors!


About wagnerjb2011

Retired systems analyst and retired volunteer. For 12 years I volunteered at the International School of Hamburg (Germany) and in various schools in Texas. My first child, a son, graduated high school in 2009. I had an excellent mentor going into his senior year, who gave me wonderful advice about navigating the college application process. I again found this information quite handy as our second child, a daughter, found herself filing applications in 2011. Both made it into the schools of their choosing without much trepidation. I am a firm believer in paying things forward. So there you have it!
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