Our Next Chapter

A group of colleges and universities came together in 1975 to streamline the college application process by creating a common application form for students. Nearly 50 years later, Common App continues to open doors to opportunity.

female student at laptop

Our Next Chapter

A group of colleges and universities came together in 1975 to streamline the college application process by creating a common application form for students. Nearly 50 years later, Common App continues to open doors to opportunity.

The challenge

Over the last decade alone, Common App has made huge strides in expanding access for students. Since 2019, low-income applicants have increased at nearly three times the rate of higher-income applicants. 

Yet, even with a diverse membership of more than 1,000 institutions, students from 
low-income communities are still significantly underrepresented in our applicant pool.

Common App’s Next Chapter is about tackling this challenge head-on with our member colleges and partners. 

Serving more low- and middle-income students will require us to reverse the downward trend of postsecondary enrollment. In 2021, 62% of high school grads (age 16-24) enrolled at 2- or 4-year institutions, compared to 68% in 2010 (according to National Center for Education Statistics data).

And, expanding our reach is made even more difficult by other factors affecting today’s higher education landscape. One, we know the population of students graduating from high school each year is declining. 

graph of college enrollment cliff

And, people continue to question the value of higher education.

According to Gallup, Americans’ confidence in higher education fell to 36% in 2023, sharply lower than in two prior readings in 2015 (57%) and 2018 (48%).

But, the value of postsecondary education has been well researched and demonstrated.

chart showing rates of unemployment and income by education level

We believe we can turn these challenges into opportunities by focusing on underserved groups of prospective students. Such as low- and middle-income students, first-generation learners, and adults without a degree beyond high school.

Our moonshot

Common App has set a bold goal to focus its work in the next chapter. We call it our moonshot: By 2030, Common App will close its equity gap in students pursuing postsecondary opportunities.

We believe that, working together, we can close equity gaps and uplift today’s students.

The opportunity

Closing this gap will help individuals and communities reach new heights. It’s also a critical strategy for institutions that must reach new pools of students to meet enrollment goals.

During the 2022–2023 academic year, 30% of Common App applicants lived in ZIP codes below the median household income ($70,000), while 70% lived in areas above it.

zip codes above and below the median income

To close the gap, Common App needs 650,000 additional applicants from low- and middle-income communities by 2030.

The graph below shows the mountain of opportunity in targeting low- and middle-income students who are not currently using the Common App. This strategy will help us close equity gaps, meet enrollment goals, and improve lives.

U.S. 12th graders by Common App usage and median household income

This graph shows 12th graders use of Common App by median income.

Our work

Expanding our reach

Common App will shoot for the moon in the following ways:

  • Using our data and collective voice to expand access
  • Reimagining the college admissions process so students have more agency in it
  • Connecting college applicants with financial aid opportunities and upfront cost information

Common App uses data to help its member colleges understand where these barriers exist and works with them to improve the admission process for all students.

Central to this is supporting members to reach new or underserved groups of prospective students, such as low- and middle-income students, first-generation learners, adults without education after high school, and adults seeking to return and complete their undergraduate education.

But we know that counselors can’t do this work alone.  Common App partners with the people who support students and provides education, training, and data so that they can make applying to college more simple, logical, joyful, and equitable for their students.

And, just like counselors and our member colleges, we’re meeting students where they are to make sure they have the information and support they need to take the next step toward achieving their personal aspirations.

Doing more with data

Common App’s data provides even more rocket fuel to help us reach the moon.

We use our data and conduct research to shine light on promising practices and opportunities, and to raise awareness of barriers in the college application process for underrepresented students—all in real time. These insights help Common App, our member colleges and universities, counselors, and others do more to support students on their way to postsecondary success.

Examples include:

Extracurricular Activities

White applicants reported an average of nearly 47% more activities than Black applicants; continuing-generation applicants reported an average of almost 37% more than first-generation applicants; and fee waiver non-recipients reported an average of 35% more than fee waiver recipients.


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Most applicants on Common App’s transfer platform are from traditionally well-served populations (one-quarter were underrepresented minority students, one-third were first-generation students and just 6% were from low-income households) and are typically transferring from a four-year university or a high-transfer traditional community college.

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Early Deadlines

While early deadlines are increasingly popular overall and may confer admissions advantages for students, our data show that applicants historically underrepresented in higher education generally appear to make their college application decisions later in the process. A large share of low-income applicants did not apply early compared to higher-income applicants who were significantly more likely to apply either early decision or early action (52% vs. 29%).

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