common application
International applicants can apply to multiple colleges at once through The Common Application. Source: Shutterstcok

The Common Application is a platform where first-time and transfer applicants can apply to multiple colleges at once. It requires students to provide details that most schools require, including name, address, parental employment and education, and extracurricular activities in one streamlined application. It’s accepted by close to 900 schools, public and private across a majority of states, including some abroad in Canada, China and many European countries.

“The idea behind the Common App is to try and reduce the barriers that students face when applying to college,” says Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of The Common Application, to US News.

It’s had a pretty successful run; by the end of 2015, it had received around four million applications from one million students. This year, a redesign promises better ease of use through improved mobile user experience, removing the default required question on criminal history, easier-to-understand interface and more information about each college.

For international students, the Common App, as it’s known, can be confusing. The process is mostly the same for domestic and international students, but there are some differences nonetheless.

The guide below lists the main differences between an international and domestic applicant on the Common App:


The Common Application will determine you as an international applicant if your citizenship deems so.

There may be additional questions required of international applicants on the My Colleges section, such as financial information as proof that you will have enough funds to study and live in the US as well as English language proficiency.

For the former, colleges may require personal financial documents, such as bank statements, letters or affidavits, but may ask for applicants to fill out specific forms relevant to their institution.

common application

The TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language, is one of the more popular standardised tests for measuring the English language ability of non-native speakers wishing to enrol in English-speaking universities. Source: Shutterstock

Applicants whose first language is not English would need to submit an official TOEFL or IELTS score directly from the testing centre.

Some colleges also strongly encourage international applicants who will need a study visa for the US to submit immigration documents, evidence of financial support and a copy of their passport ID page as part of a complete application to accelerate the admission and visa process.

Application fees

More than 250 Common Application colleges do not require an application fee. This will be clearly mentioned in the college search. For the remaining colleges, an application fee would be required.

Whether or not international students will pay the same fees as domestic applicants or different is up to the school. If a fee is required, US citizens or permanent residents pay the domestic application fee. Those who do not fall into these categories will have to pay the international application fee.

Payment of application fee

Applicants with a permanent address in the US will have their application fee payment processed by Cashnet, a Blackboard company.

Those with addresses outside the US will have their application payment processed by Flywire.

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