Frequently Asked Questions about the Common Application

System pilot participation

Is participation in the pilot mandatory?

Participation in the pilot is voluntary. If you do not wish to have your Site participate in the pilot, you don’t need to do anything. Simply continue your application process the way you have previously done it.

Do I still need to fulfill NSF’s reporting requirements through the Research Performance Progress Report System at if I participate in the pilot?

Yes, you will still need to report to NSF as you typically do. Through your participation in the pilot, you will have access to aggregate information on your applicants and participants, which will facilitate reporting and providing evidence for grant renewal proposals.

Program logos

Common application features

What information will the common application collect?

The common application will request the following:

  • Basic information from applicants that can be used to identify unique individuals, match them to National Student Clearinghouse records, monitor program eligibility, and track applicants over time
  • Demographic information (such as gender and race) and current college enrollment (such as college name and years completed)
  • A few items designed to gauge applicants’ socioeconomic background, which can be leveraged for student selection, research, and evaluation purposes
  • Questions about previous program participation and prior academic achievement
  • Additional information, such as the Sites to which students wish to apply, a personal statement, a resume and college transcript, and the names of two references

Please go to Screenshots for screenshots of the common application system.

Can I request additional information from applicants?

This system has built-in flexibility for Sites to request additional information. If you would like applicants to answer additional questions or upload additional materials to the common application, you may add instructions to the system by uploading a PDF file, or you can specify up to three additional application questions when completing the principal investigator module. Use the "Additional Applications Requirements" feature under the Application Info tab in the module to upload your PDF file or enter your additional questions. Applicants will be prompted to view the document you’ve uploaded or the questions inserted when they select your Site in the common application. They will be able to respond to your instructions by (1) uploading additional materials (in a PDF file) or (2) entering text of up to 5,000 characters to respond to each question you added.

How will applicants know they are supposed to use the common application?

You will have to inform applicants to apply to your Site through the common application at [domain]. They will also find out if they visit this website.

When will the common application become available to students?

Students can apply to your Site on the start date you indicated in the system (under the Application Info tab when you log into the principal investigator module).

How many staff members from my Site can be designated as users in the System?

You may designate up to nine staff members as users to manage your Site in the system. Among other things, designated users can enter admissions decisions, record program participation, and download data. You may revoke their access at any time. All users will have to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

My Site has multiple awards active. Which award should I enter in the system?

The system allows each principal investigator to report on one award only. You should enter the award you are using to support students for your upcoming cycle. This is typically the most recent grant you were awarded.

My Site is already full. Can I close my application window?

You may close your application window at any time through the principal investigator module to stop receiving applications. However, we strongly discourage changing your application due date to one earlier than originally stated, as prospective applicants might wait until the last day to submit their applications to your Site. Feel free to extend the application window, as that can only benefit prospective applicants.

What if an applicant is unable to complete the common application online?

If an applicant is unable to complete an online form, please ask the student to contact the Help Desk. A study team member can enter the information into the system on the student’s behalf.

How to…

I want to start using the system. How do I get my principal investigator ID?

Go to and register to create your account. During registration, you will need to specify your primary email address and create a password. When your registration is complete, your ID will be sent to your email address. Please note that you must specify the email address associated with your FastLane account to successfully register. If you’re unsure what email address is associated with your FastLane account, contact the Help Desk. If you’d like to associate your account with a different email address, you will have to contact your program officer at NSF to approve the change.

How do I enter admission decisions?

You can update admission decisions either manually or through a CSV file upload.

To manually update applicants’ records, navigate to the Applicants page in the principal investigator module. This page will display a table that lists the applicants to your Site. You may enter admissions and applicant decisions directly into the table.

To do a bulk upload of decisions, first navigate to the Applicants page in the principal investigator module, and click on "Add/Edit Multiple Applicants" to download an applicant file template (readable in Excel). Enter your updates directly in this file and then save it as a CSV (comma-delimited) file. You can then upload the CSV file to the Site to update single or multiple applicant records.

How can I report participants in my Site?

Navigate to the Participants page in the principal investigator module. This page will display a table that lists those applicants who have been admitted to your program and have agreed to participate (as indicated on the Applicants page in the module.) You will have to enter participation status and funding sources into the table.

Help Desk

For questions, comments, or immediate assistance, please contact the Help Desk: or 1-800-232-8024