Applying to the Common App  Schools


The CommonApp application system is the largest undergraduate application system in the US. This application serves as the main application for many of the US’ top undergraduate institutions, such as but not limited to:

  • Harvard  

  • Yale

  • Princeton

  • Stanford

  • Columbia 

  • Northwestern  

  • University of Michigan Ann Arbor

  • University of Chicago

  • Duke University

  • John Hopkins University

For a full list of schools, click here. Out of all the applications systems, the CommonApp has the most requirements. It must be noted that the CommonApp is only an application system, and each school handles admissions separately. This is a central Common Application component to each submitted file, and there will most likely be an additional supplement component for each school. You are required to complete BOTH the CommonApp and the school specific supplimanal component. 

Starting the application:


The actual CommonApp can be found here. The application can be accessed anytime of the year. Most Early Applications have a deadline of mid November and most other colleges have a regular application deadline of late-December or early-January. All test scores, such as SATs, TOEFL and ACTs, must be submitted by January 15th at the latest.


After creating an account you should make sure you have the following for filling out the application:


  • Academic Records (Official English Translations of Transcripts 9-12)

  • Test Scores (SAT, ACT + Writing, APs, TOEFL)

  • Estimated Household Income (optional)

  • Citizenship Status (Passport)

  • Credit or Debit card



Once you have completed creating the account, you will find four tabs. You should begin with completing the CommonApp tab (which is the main application, although as mentioned some schools require additions information and supplements). Completing the application may seem daunting and overwhelming at first sight, but if you take it one step at a time you’ll be able to finish in no time.

Education & CBO:


The first question asked is concerning which type of ranking system your school incorporates. An example of a quarter system ranking would be “[Name] was in the top 25% of the class” as opposed to an exact ranking system, such as “[Name] was the 3rd in his class”. Make sure you know which one your school officially uses, and you should only input this information if it is on official documents (such as your transcript). If your school does not present a ranking on your transcripts or other pieces of information, you should input “none” as the system. If you do not know whether your school has a weighted or an unweighted system, here is an explanation of what they are “A weighted GPA is based on the simple idea that some high school classes are much harder than others, and these hard classes should carry more weight. In other words, an 'A' in AP Calculus represents a much greater accomplishment than an 'A' in remedial algebra. So if a certain course counts more to your GPA than another course, that most likely means you have a weighted system (such is the case with most Saudi schools).



The Profile section is very simple and intuitive. The most important part would be the Citizenship section. If you have an American passport, you should list it and also see our guide concerning dual citizenship here. If you have a Non-US passport, you should chose that and input whatever visa status you have. For most high school students in Arab countries it would be the first “I don’t have a valid US Visa” option.

Grades & Courses:


Here you can self-report all the scores you currently have. It should be noted that although this information will get to the universities you are applying to, you still must send them official score reports through the testing agencies (CollegeBoard, ETS). As for the question “International applicants: Is promotion within your educational system based upon standard leaving examinations given at the end of lower and/or senior secondary school by a state or national leaving examinations board?” this is usually not the case for most Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia. This asks if you must take certain exams not included in the courses you are taking to graduate, which again is not necessary in most Arab countries.

After Completing the Common App:


Once you have completed the CommonApp tap, you should begin looking for the schools you intend to apply to. Click here for the Qimmah Guide to taking your College List . Also, you should begin selecting which teacher recommendations to use for each school. Seeing as teacher recommendations can be done completely electronically, you should be able to easily choose. Further readings and links to the CommonApp Guide CommonApp Help Center. There is also the KnowHow2Go website which is recommended officially by the CommonApp site. 

Writing Section:


Here is where you get your chance to display yourself as more than just numbers and activities. This is another very important part of the application process. Click here to see the Qimmah Essay Guide and the Qimmah Essay Viewer. For the CommonApp, this main essay will be the one that will be viewed by all the colleges you apply to, as opposed to the supplemental essays that will only be seen by the required college, so you should take that into account when deciding which essay to use. The final part is the additional information section. Here you can write about certain circumstances about your education (such as a sudden dramatic fall in grades in a specific year) or to put any other information you might see fit. Over the years, students have submitted extra essays, CVs, or poetry in this section, so be creative.

Activities Section:


This is arguably the most important section. Here is your opportunity to

highlight that most valuable activities that you have participated in the for past
three to four years. P
resent what you did in the best possible light without
committing fraud. This is a very important aspect that you do not lie on this form. You only have space for ten activities so make sure they are the ones that highlight your abilities and commitment the best. The following is an example of a student's activities list who was accepted at Stanford and UCLA