What Is the Common App?

By Laurel Tincher · September 09, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Is the Common App?

Applying to college can be both time-consuming and expensive — with some schools charging as much as $75 just to apply. Fortunately, there are ways to make the process easier, and potentially cheaper.

The Common Application (or Common App) is an online college application platform used by more than 1,000 colleges that allows you to apply to multiple schools using one centralized application. The bulk of the application questions only need to be filled out once, though certain colleges and universities might also require supplements, such as short answer questions and/or essay prompts specific to that school. The new edition of the Common App opens Aug. 1 every year.

The Common App also provides students with valuable resources for the application process, including step-by-step application guidelines, information about financial aid and scholarship options, as well as how to get your application fee waived.

How Much Does the Common App Cost?

Although the Common App is free to use, individual schools often have their own application fees that students must pay to apply. The average undergraduate application fee for U.S. students is $56. However, some schools don’t charge application fees.

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.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

How the Common App Fee Waiver Works

You can use the Common App Fee Waiver section of your Profile to request a fee waiver. If you select that you are eligible for the Common App fee waiver, you will not be charged any application fees when you submit through Common App.

Recommended: Ultimate College Application Checklist

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.

Recommended: Important College Application Deadlines

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.

💡 Quick Tip: Federal student loans carry an origination or processing fee (1.057% for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans first disbursed from Oct. 1, 2020, through Oct. 1, 2024). The fee is subtracted from your loan amount, which is why the amount disbursed is less than the amount you borrowed. That said, some private student loan lenders don’t charge an origination fee.

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 you don’t think you will qualify for aid, it’s a good idea to fill out this form. The FAFSA opens up opportunities for students to receive student loans, federal grants, school aid, and work-study positions.

Applying for Scholarships

There are thousands of private 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. Some are need-based, while others are merit-based. To find out if you qualify and to become eligible for grants, you need to fill out the FAFSA.

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, which is an investment account that offers tax benefits when used to pay for qualified education expenses for a designated beneficiary.

Taking out Federal Loans

Federal student loans are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and may be subsidized (which means you won’t be charged interest while you are in college and for six months after) or unsubsidized (meaning interest starts accruing right away). Federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than private loans.

To qualify for a federal loan, you will need to complete and submit the FAFSA.

Taking out Private Loans

Another option for covering the cost of attendance for college is to take out a private student loan. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates tend to be higher than federal student loans, but borrowing limits are typically higher. These loans are not need-based and generally require a credit check. Borrowers (or cosigners) with excellent credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates.

Keep in mind that private student loans may not offer the same borrower protections that federal student loans offer, such as forbearance or income-driven repayment plans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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