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What is the Common App?

By Laurel Tincher · March 29, 2021 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What is the Common App?

Applying for and preparing for college can be stressful and overwhelming, not to mention expensive. From choosing which colleges to apply to, to taking tests, to filling out applications, the process is time consuming, on top of the pressures of finishing highschool.

As if paying college tuition wasn’t enough, many schools charge an application fee which can range anywhere from $50 to $90 per school. With college counselors recommending that students apply to anywhere from 6 to 10 schools, these fees can add up.

Fortunately, there are ways to make the process easier. The Common App is a non-profit college access organization that has created a tool for applying to colleges. This tool is referred to as the Common App or Common Application. Students can use the Common App system to apply for 800+ schools all at once using a single application. Although some colleges supplement the Common App questions with their own questions, the bulk of the application questions only need to be filled out once. More than one million students apply with the Common App each year.

Schools join the Common App as members, with more schools joining each year. The types of schools included in the Common App include:

•   Schools in 20+ countries
•   Colleges in 48 U.S. States
•   250+ colleges with no application fee
•   200+ test-optional or test-flexible schools
•   100+ public universities

Common App also provides students with valuable resources for the application process, including step by step application guidelines, and information about financial aid and scholarship options.

How Much Does the Common App Cost?

Although the Common App is free to use, individual schools sometimes have their own application fees that students must pay to apply. Many schools don’t charge any fees, and some don’t charge fees for domestic or international students.

The Common App organization understands that some students are unable to pay application fees, and they don’t want this to be a barrier for students to be able to apply for college. For this reason, they have created the Common App Fee Waiver, which allows students to apply to schools without any fees.

Not every school will accept a fee waiver, but thousands of schools around the world do.

How the Common App Fee Waiver Works

Students can apply for as many fee waivers as they need for the schools they wish to apply to.

In 2017-2018, over 23,000 students received fee waivers, which are granted by colleges that are members of the Common App.

How to Apply

Students can apply for the Common App Fee Waiver in the Personal Information or Profile section of their application. There is a place in this section to select “Yes” to apply for the waiver and indicate eligibility.

In order to complete the application for a Fee Waiver, students must also have their college counselor submit a fee waiver form.

Many schools use the honor system and trust that a form from a counselor proves a student’s eligibility, but some schools may ask for electronic or hard copies of paperwork for verification of eligibility.

Who is Eligible?

Students who fit any of the following criteria may be eligible to receive a Common App Fee Waiver:

•   Students who are orphans or wards of the state
•   Students whose family receives public assistance
•   Students who received or are eligible to receive SAT or ACT testing fee waivers
•   Students enrolled in or eligible to enroll in Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Programs
•   Students whose family’s annual income fits the eligibility for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
•   Students enrolled in local, state, or federal aid programs for low-income families
•   Students who are homeless, live in a foster home or in federally subsidized public housing
•   Students who get a written statement from a community leader, financial aid officer, school counselor or official

Each school decides whether to grant a student’s request for a Common App Fee Waiver.

Beyond the Application: Paying for College

Students and families applying for Common App Fee Waivers may also be looking into financing options to pay for college tuition. There are several options for parents and students who need help paying for college. These include:

Filling out the FAFSA®

The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Even if students don’t qualify for aid, this form opens up opportunities for students to receive student loans, federal grants, school aid, and work study positions.

Applying for Scholarships

There are thousands of scholarships available to students, and the benefit of scholarships is that they don’t have to be paid back, unlike student loans.

Finding Affordable Schools

Although some universities cost tens of thousands of dollars each year to attend, others are much more affordable. Some schools are also more generous with student financial aid than others. Students may want to carefully compare the financial aid packages offered to them to figure out which school is the most affordable for them.

Applying for Work-Study Jobs

Students can work part time to help pay for college. The federal work-study program provides work opportunities for students to get jobs on campus.

Applying for Grants

In addition to scholarships, there are thousands of grants available to students. These grants are issued by the federal government, the Pell program, and individual states.

Saving Money in a 529 Plan

Many families put money aside each month to help pay for college tuition. One way to do this is using a 529 Plan, or state-sponsored tax-advantaged college investment account.

Taking out Federal Loans

If none of the above options provide enough financial assistance to pay for college, students can take out federal student loans. These loans ideally shouldn’t cost more than 10% of projected after-tax income that a student will earn after they graduate.

Taking out Private Loans

Another option for tuition payments is borrowing private student loans. This is often the most expensive option, and parents and students should shop around to find the best rates and terms. Many of these loans also accrue interest each year, meaning students will have to pay back more than they borrowed. Most private loans don’t offer the same borrower protections that federal student loans offer, such as forbearance or income-driven repayment plans.

Take the Stress out of Paying for College

It can be overwhelming trying to find the best private student loan option, on top of all the other stressors of applying to college. If parents and students are looking for a straightforward private student loan program, SoFi can be a great choice. SoFi offers private student loans as well as loans for parents who want to pay for their child’s education. SoFi’s student loans have no fees, and everything from the application to the payments can be done online. The loans can cover up to 100% of school costs, including tuition, books, room and board, even personal expenses. SoFi’s parent loans can either have a fixed or variable interest rate, and parents can choose to only repay the interest while their child is in school, with tuition payments starting after graduation.

SoFi has also partnered with Edmit, a comprehensive online tool that helps estimate financial aid costs, search for merit aid and scholarships, and compare the cost of attendance to different schools. With SoFi and Edmit, parents and students can create a personalized, long term strategy for paying for education.

Learn more about private student loan options available at SoFi.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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