The Common App and A Guide to Applying to Private Colleges

The stress over CSU and UC apps are over, but the grind continues if you’re applying for private schools. Whether you’re selecting a small liberal arts college like Pomona or a large research university like Stanford, most of the information you’ll be submitting to both institutions will be the same – that’s the Common Application.


Many private universities (save for MIT and other schools with their own portals) accept the Common Application. You will fill out a general portion for all colleges (i.e. personal information, test scores, extracurriculars) and submit one essay responding to one of the seven Common App prompts. Then, you will fill out all the supplemental portions for each private school that you are applying to.


For instance, if you are applying to Harvard and USC, both colleges will receive the general portion of your Common App and the common essay. You will then fill out Harvard’s supplemental writing section and USC’s supplemental writing section, and submit each to their respective colleges.


Why bother with private universities, you ask? You may feel burnt out from writing any more essays after submitting your EOP application and UC personal insight question responses, but there’s a whole other world beyond in-state public universities. You only get one chance to apply to college as a freshman, and out-of-state experiences can change the way you see the world.


Class of 2017 GGHS graduate Marissa Garcia took this opportunity and applied to all Ivy League schools over winter break last year. She is currently attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and writing one of the best chapters of her life. “Private schools focus on the philosophy of there existing a will to learn– we are no longer working for the grades necessarily but rather for the knowledge. The struggles of enrolling in quickly-filling classes (a problem frequently experienced in public universities) being eliminated is really conducive to also refreshingly eliminating the relationship between education and practicality.” At Harvard’s smaller classes, Marissa feels that she’s really learning for “self-enlightenment.”


If you’re from a low-income family, do not fret about not being able to afford college. Many private universities will offer generous financial aid packages to help you have a great education and graduate debt-free.

The process of applying to private schools is very different from CSU/UC schools. We’ll do our part as Argolog to highlight some main differences and key parts of the admissions process that you should look out for.


  • Deadlines. There’s usually two to store in your brain – the application deadline itself, and the deadline to submit financial aid materials, including FAFSA and CSS Profile/IDOC. You’re responsible for submitting your Common App and essays in time, as well as communicating with your counselor and the teachers who are writing your letters of recommendation to turn them in by the same deadline. Constantly remind them!
  • Submitting financial aid materials. This can be scary since most of us barely know what’s going on regarding our parents’ tax return forms, but it’s okay! Besides the FAFSA (which you have already submitted for UCs and now should resubmit to the private schools by editing your FAFSA application to add more schools), private schools also require you to submit a CSS Profile (found on College Board) that is a more in-depth look on your financial aid situation. This allows the colleges to create the financial aid package that best fits your family’s needs. It is longer and more detailed than the FAFSA, and you will need your parents’ tax returns and similar forms to fill it out – it’d be most helpful if you went through the application with a parent! After submitting the CSS Profile, you will be requested by colleges to scan and upload copies of various financial forms, such as your parent’s W-2 forms. Ms. Stacey and College Boost will also be available in room 301 as usual to guide you through the process if you have more questions!
  • Interviews. Face-to-face, in a public space like Starbucks. Generally, an alumni from the school you’re applying to will contact you for an interview (if they’re locally available), and you get to share why you’re genuinely interested in attending that school for the next four years of your life. This is where you get to show your personality while learning from the interviewer him/herself about their unique experience at the university. Being yourself is the key to nailing this one!
  • College Confidential. Don’t go on this website if you want help on your essays or if you’re wondering if you’re qualified enough to apply to your dream school – boycott it! Comparing yourself to others will do more harm than good. Admission officers review your application holistically- you are more than your GPA and SAT scores. You have a story, and you’ll have an opportunity to share that amazing story in your essays. Don’t let the high standards on College Confidential trick you into thinking that college applications are all about hooks and numbers.