How to Save Time On Your College Applications

If a standard option is available at schools on your short list, it's worth considering.

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For high school students, the road to college can be a long one. Exploring schools online, taking road trips, and narrowing choices into a short list may all take place before a student even tackles a college application—a process in itself. 

[Stay on track with this college admissions to-do list.] 

College applications require thought, honesty, and time. But, depending on where you plan to apply, you may be able to trim some of your workload by submitting one application to multiple schools. Keeping in mind that you shouldn't apply to numerous colleges just because you can, here are some time-savers to consider: 

1. Common Application: The Common Application is perhaps the most well-known means of streamlining your application process. More than 450 schools, including Smith College, the College of William and Mary, and Case Western Reserve University, currently accept the standard application. 

At Meredith College, using the standard application doubles as a way for the school to draw in applicants who may not have heard of Meredith otherwise, says Associate Director of Admissions Megan Greer, and as an attractive route for prospective students. 

"It's a one-stop shop," she says. "It's a little less daunting to have that one application, especially when you're dealing with so many different deadlines [and] reminders. It seems to make one piece of the college admissions process a little more manageable." 

[Read experts' takes on the pros and cons of the Common Application.] 

It's important to keep in mind that while the core application is accepted at all member schools, more than two thirds of participating colleges require supplemental materials. Through the Common App's new mobile site, students can check on their application requirements and statuses on their smartphones

2. Universal College Application: The Universal Application debuted several years ago and is a standard application now accepted at about 60 schools, including Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, and Tulane University. At Tulane, which stopped accepting the Common App in favor of the Universal Application, the standard application is as ingrained in the admissions culture as the university's own materials, according to Director of Undergraduate Admission Faye Tydlaska. 

"When we talk about the application process, we always start out by saying there are two ways that you can apply," she says. "It comes down to convenience for the student—it really does not matter to us either way." 

Tulane does not require any supplemental materials beyond the Universal College App, though about half of participating schools do.  

3. Common Black College Application: For students interested in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), one application—and one fee—can help to expedite the process. For a one-time, $35 application fee, a student's online materials are sent to 35 HBCU schools, including Tuskegee University, Clark Atlanta University, and LeMoyne-Owen College. In order to gauge a student's interest in specific schools, applicants designate a top four selection, though all 35 schools will receive the application materials. 

The Common Black College Application benefits both prospective students and admissions offices, according to founder Robert Mason, since it's a way to expose students of any race to a variety of HBCUs across the country that they may not have considered otherwise. 

Such was the case for Tekeya Peterson, who hails from Sarasota, Fla. She had a 2.0 GPA in high school, but instead of opting for a local community college she submitted the Common Black College Application at the behest of her high school counselor. After receiving many rejection letters, she ultimately got into one school—Paine College in Augusta, Ga.—where she's now happily settled. 

"If it were not for the application, Paine would not have even existed in my mind," says Peterson, now a junior studying mass communications who dreams of starting her own public relations firm. "I didn't even see Paine's name on the application, [but] Paine is everything that I ever needed and more."