The Common Application covers several areas: personal data, educational data, standardized test information, family information, academic honors, extracurricular activities, work experience, a personal essay, and criminal history. Financial aid information needs to be handled on the FAFSA.
Starting in 2013 with CA4, the newest version of the Common Application, the paper version of the application is being phased out and all applications will be submitted electronically through the Common Application website. The online application allows you to create different versions of the application for different schools, and the website will also keep track of the different application requirements for the different schools to which you are applying.
Many schools will ask for a supplemental essay to complement the essay you write on one of the five personal essay options provided on the Common Application. Many colleges will also ask for a short answer essay on one of your extracurricular or work experiences. These supplements will be submitted through the Common Application website.