To get into college, you must submit an application. Learn about the most widely used centralized college application systems and which schools use them.

A Complete Guide to the Major College Application Systems


  • Many colleges use centralized applications to streamline the admissions process.
  • The most popular application system is the Common App, which is used by about 900 schools.
  • Created as a competitor to the Common App, the Coalition App is rapidly gaining popularity.
  • The Universal College App has fallen out of favor in recent years.

Applying to college can feel overwhelming, especially if you want to submit applications to several schools. Fortunately, hundreds of colleges and universities use centralized application systems, which allow students to input all their personal information, test scores, and essays just once and then send that information to many different schools.

Not all institutions accept these centralized applications, but if you apply to schools that do, the process can be far less stressful and time-consuming.

In this guide, we'll go over the most popular college application systems and what schools use them.

Table of Contents

The Common Application

Created more than 40 years ago, the Common App is the most widely used college application system today, serving approximately 900 colleges and universities worldwide, including all Ivy League schools and many top public and private institutions. Each year, over 1 million students apply to college through the Common App, about one-third of whom are first-generation students.

The Common App is committed to diversity, access, and equity. In 2019, the nonprofit organization merged with Reach Higher, a postsecondary education initiative started by former First Lady Michelle Obama, to encourage more students to apply to college and achieve their academic goals.

With the Common App, students can get information on schools they're interested in and keep track of application deadlines. One of the biggest pros of this application system is its diverse array of essay prompts.

Popular Common App Schools

  • Amherst College
  • Boston University
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Virginia
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University

The Coalition Application

A competitor to the Common App, the Coalition App was introduced in 2015 by the Coalition for College, a group of more than 150 U.S. higher education institutions dedicated to supporting all students — especially those from underrepresented groups — throughout the college application process.

Member schools must meet strict eligibility requirements, which include enrolling a certain percentage of low-income or underrepresented students and graduating their students with little to no debt.

Students applying through the Coalition App can access free information on colleges and tips on how to apply. One major pro of the Coalition App is its locker function, which helps you keep track of and upload important materials from high school, such as essays you've written, projects you've done, and videos of speeches and presentations you've given.

While many of the schools that accept the Coalition App also accept the Common App, a few popular institutions — including the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin — accept the Coalition App but not the Common App. In addition, several, but not all, of the Ivies use the Coalition App.

Popular Coalition App Schools

  • Amherst College
  • Boston University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Columbia University
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Harvard University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Middlebury College
  • Northwestern University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • Stanford University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Tufts University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Washington
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University

The Universal College Application

Released in 2007 as a competitor to the Common App, the Universal College App has declined greatly in popularity over the past decade. At one point serving dozens of colleges, today the Universal College App is accepted by just three institutions, all of which also accept the far more popular Common App.

Unlike the nonprofit Common App and Coalition App, the Universal College App is a for-profit system that doesn't adhere to any particular educational philosophy or mission statement. This lack of commitment to underprivileged students and college access is likely one of the reasons fewer universities are choosing to partner with the Universal College App these days.

Full List of Universal College App Schools

  • Cornell University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Charleston

QuestBridge

QuestBridge is a unique application system that primarily functions as a scholarship-matching service. Geared toward high-achieving students from low-income families, QuestBridge allows students to apply to up to 12 member colleges in the hopes of "matching" with a school, which entails receiving early admission and a full, four-year scholarship. Students who do not find a match may still apply for regular admission to schools offering generous financial aid packages.

In 2019, 1,127 finalists were admitted early with a full-ride scholarship to a top university. To be eligible, you must have an impressive academic record and a total family income of less than $65,000 a year. This year's QuestBridge application is due September 29.

Full List of QuestBridge Schools

  • Amherst College
  • Boston College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Carleton College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Colby College
  • Colgate University
  • Colorado College
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Grinnell College
  • Hamilton College
  • Haverford College
  • Macalester College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Northwestern University
  • Oberlin College
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • Rice University
  • Scripps College
  • Stanford University
  • Swarthmore College
  • Tufts University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Virginia
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Vassar College
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Wellesley College
  • Wesleyan University
  • Williams College
  • Yale University

ApplyTexas

Texas is home to many community colleges and public universities, but applying separately to each of these institutions can take a lot of time and effort. This is why the state created ApplyTexas, a Texas-specific centralized application.

Through this system, students can submit a single application to any two- or four-year public Texas college or university, including the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. You can also apply to several private universities and graduate schools, such as Texas Christian University and Baylor University. Over 100 schools accept the ApplyTexas application.

Popular ApplyTexas Schools

  • Austin College
  • Baylor University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of Dallas
  • University of Houston
  • University of St. Thomas
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of Texas at El Paso
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • University of Texas at Tyler

University System Applications

Despite the popularity of the Common App and Coalition App, several well-known public universities rely on proprietary applications, encouraging students to apply to multiple campuses within that school system.

Here are a few of the most famous state application systems, as well as an overview of how they work.

  • University of California Application

    Students applying to one or more University of California schools — including the highly prestigious University of California, Los Angeles, and University of California, Berkeley — must submit all materials through the UC application. As part of your application, you'll respond to a handful of "personal insight" questions, which ask you to describe things like your leadership experience, your talents and skills, and any challenges you've faced.

    The UC application is due each year by November 30, making it one of the earlier deadlines for college applications.

  • Cal State Apply

    The largest public university system in the U.S., the California State University relies on its own application called Cal State Apply. Applicants must submit unofficial transcripts and test scores, among other materials. Students may apply during various application cycles for fall, winter, spring, or summer admission.

  • applySUNY

    Fifty-three of the 64 State University of New York campuses use a proprietary application system called applySUNY, which allows students to apply to multiple SUNY campuses in one fell swoop. If a campus requires a supplemental application, you'll be directed to complete that once you've submitted your base SUNY application.

Which Online College Application System Should You Use?

The above are just some examples of the different types of application systems colleges accept. Schools that don't use any of these systems rely on their own proprietary applications. For example, Georgetown University uses neither the Common App nor Coalition App; instead, it requires all students to apply through the university's personalized application system.

Here are a few other renowned schools that don't accept any of the above applications:

  • Brigham Young University
  • United States Military Academy (West Point)
  • United States Naval Academy

Most students apply to several colleges and universities to give themselves a variety of options for their postsecondary studies. Ultimately, the application system(s) you should apply through depends on the institutions you choose and what they accept. If all of your schools use the Common App, for instance, it'd be easiest to apply through that.

Make a list of your schools and which application(s) they accept. Those that use only a proprietary application will have to be completed separately, but applying to schools that share an application system can save you time and reduce application-season stress.


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