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Some Illinois public universities are seeing the effect of joining hundreds of higher institutions that accept the Common Application.

A $1 million grant announced last year by the Pritzker administration helped get all 12 public, four-year schools into the program. A number of private colleges and universities in the state also are on the platform.

The Common App is a central online college application that makes it easier to apply to multiple schools. Schools also appear in a searchable database in which applicants can sort through institutions to find the right fit.

“The Common App has been very helpful for us this year,” said Doug Freed, director of admissions for Western Illinois University. “We have seen an increase in applications, an increase in students using the Common Application, and also increase in the number of students asking us about the Common Application.”

The Common Application represents nearly 900 institutions of higher education across the country and each year more than one million apply to college using the platform. Students are asked a series of standard questions, though individual schools can add additional customized inquiries before submission.

The University of Illinois Chicago was the first public school in the state to use the Common App, beginning some six years ago.

“We got sustainable long term growth, five or six percent,” said UIC Vice Provost Kevin Browne. “We continue to see that. We're the only public university in Illinois that really has had eight years now of continued growth, even during the pandemic. And I think the Common App is one of those reasons.”

Officials with Northern Illinois University decided to add the school to the Common App platform in 2020. In its second year of use, the school reports 65% of its applications now come through the platform.

“We think that it helps students open up more opportunities,” said Sol Jensen, Vice President for Enrollment Management at NIU. “The common application is national and international, and so our hope was that we would start to draw some additional student interest from outside the state as well as additional interest from inside of Illinois.”

There is optimism that the widespread use of the Common App will help to keep high school graduates closer to home. Currently, nearly 50% of Illinois students leave the  state to continue their education.

“We're second in the country after New Jersey with the number of students who leave their state for tertiary level education,” Browne said. “The hope is that students will think about applying to an Illinois university while they're applying to out-of-state institutions as well.”

Browne says the streamlined process makes for a better experience for the school and the student.

“We know that our applicants were applying to other institutions as well,” Browne said. “Oftentimes that meant they had to fill out three or four different applications. The whole idea now is you can fill out an application once and it's just a better experience for the student.”

Freed says Western Illinois is now being seen by students for the first time. He reports the exposure has led to new applications from international students and extra interest from other areas of the country.

Waivers to cover the costs of applying are available for low-income Common App applicants, and in 2019-2020 more than 470,000 students across the country were granted a fee waiver.

“We fully support making it easier for Illinoisans to apply to universities close to home, and we are grateful to Gov. Pritzker and IBHE for their leadership,” Kim Rendfeld, executive director of University Communications and Marketing with Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said in a statement. “Our applications for fall 2022 are up, in part because of the Common Application, but it is too early to judge its effect on enrollment.”