Editor’s note: The following article was contributed by Marine Corps Community Services. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length. Find more at http://www.usmc-mccs.org/.

Have you heard of the Common Application? Do you know what it is or how it works?

If not, let’s fix that.

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The Common Application, also called the Common App, is an undergraduate college admissions application. By filling out that one application, you can apply to any of the colleges that accept the form.

There are many benefits to applying with the Common App. Over 700 colleges and universities use it, which means you can apply to multiple colleges and universities with just one application!

You can also view the writing prompts and supplemental questions. In addition, the Common App helps you keep track of all your application deadlines in one place.

Using it is fairly straightforward:

1. Go to http://www.commonapp.org/ and create and account.

2. Add the schools you are applying to.

3. Review and follow the requirements for each school.

4. Gather references and materials

5. Begin applying

All applicants using the Common App must respond to the personal essay.

“From all the applications I’ve seen and schools I’ve worked with, the personal essay is by far the most important piece of the application process,” said Deborah Marconda, a Marine Corps Leadership Scholar Program Manager.

The Common App allows you to see what standards (word count, formatting, etc.) different colleges expect you to adhere to when drafting your personal essay. This information can be found under the “Writing Requirements” tab on the Common App website.

The personal essay has a big impact on the outcome of your application. Be sure to stay within the 650-word limit and leave enough time to edit and refine your essay. If possible, ask several people to review your essay before submitting it.

Your chosen college or university may provide you with a writing prompt to help you draft your essay. Here are some of the most popular prompts:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma ― anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could take to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Some schools may require you to answer supplemental questions in addition to writing an essay. These supplemental questions are also available through the Common Application.