The Standard Application Online (SAO)

Streamline the application process for independent schools and students.

Download Datasheet

Conquer declining demographics by removing the hurdles families must clear in their search for a perfect school.

Smart independent schools are simplifying school application to allow enrollment leaders to focus on making the right match between school and applicant — and they’re doing it by adopting The Standard Application Online (SAO), a flexible, single solution that has streamlined every step of the application process.

Start Using the SAO

When the school application process is confusing,

we create barriers to educational opportunity.

What Is The SAO?

It’s a free, online service for EMA member schools that allows students to submit their information, essays, transcripts, and recommendations once to any school that accepts it.

Increased Applications

There is an average 20% growth in applications for schools that fully adopt the SAO in their admission processes.

Ease of Use

Our cloud-based SAO solution operates in real-time and allows schools and families to access information anywhere with an internet connection.

Simple Setup

SAO setup takes less than 20 minutes! Schools can customize application components and immediately receive submitted applications and pre-applications from students who have demonstrated interest in your school.

Seamless Data Integration

The SAO’s partnership with leading enrollment management solution providers allows for smooth integration with schools’ databases.

Superior User Support

EMA operates a full-time customer service center to support families (via phone, live chat, and email). EMA also provides training and instructions to support EMA member schools.

Expanded Access

EMA’s Community-Based Organization (CBO) program combines the SAO and the application fee waiver process to provide students and access organizations with a simple, one-stop option.

Students have submitted more than 350,000 applications to independent schools worldwide

using the SAO.

“The Student Application Online is a gamechanger. It gets us the application pieces we need in a more streamlined fashion, we can customize certain components for our different divisions, and there’s seamless processing with our backend enrollment management systems."

Ginny Bachman
Director of Admission & Financial Aid
St. Luke’s School (CT)
Read the Case Study

Your schools are different.
Your application doesn't need to be.

Developed for and by SAO Users

EMA’s in-house product team created and continuously works to improve the SAO for both students and schools by:

  • Surveying families
  • Analyzing SAO usage to design user improvements
  • Conducting user testing sessions
  • Developing an SAO advisory committee of independent school admission directors 
Download Summary Of Research (REMOVE)

SAO Resources

Some of the Schools Benefitting From The SAO

Click the logos below to read success stories.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why a "Common" Application?

When school applications are confusing and nonstandard in both form and function, we create barriers to educational opportunity. In an era of declining demographics, smart independent schools strive to reduce the hurdles that students and families must clear in their search for a perfect school. Streamlining the application process allows enrollment leaders to do what they do best—focus on making the right match between their school and each applicant. Because when great schools enroll great students, everything is possible.

The Standard Application Online (SAO) is a free service provided by The Enrollment Management Association to member schools, in which students submit their information, essays, transcripts, and recommendations just once, online, to apply to as many of the nearly 500 member schools that accept it as they like.

The SAO is used by small schools (with correspondingly small budgets, that cannot afford to onboard a costly vendor-based online application solution) and large, high-volume schools that value the efficiency afforded by online delivery. In addition, regional groups of schools interested in making the application process less arduous for families have embraced the SAO. Even those schools that require unique applicant information take advantage of the SAO by utilizing its supplemental form functionality.

Learn More

How long does it take a school to set up the SAO?

Most schools take about 20 minutes to set up their SAO. This may take a little longer if schools have multiple supplements or chooses to set up a variety of applications, perhaps by grade level, day or boarding programs, or for international students only.

How can schools customize their SAO?

Schools have the ability to create school-specific supplements. Schools can use supplements to request additional information that is not collected by the SAO but which may be important to an individual school’s admission process. Schools also have the ability to create a unique supplement form on a grade-by-grade basis.

Does the SAO operate in real time?

The SAO system operates in real time—meaning both the member and student portals are updated the moment application components are submitted. For example, the moment a recommender submits a recommendation form, it is available for viewing/printing by the school on their MAP. Students, as well, can instantly see that the form was submitted (though they cannot view the form). While the system operates in real time, it does require that both family and school users access it via their secure portals to manage their applications. Schools are encouraged to view and access the system as often as necessary during busy admission times to track and manage incoming and existing applications.

How are families using the SAO supported by EMA?

Families are the most important part of the SAO process. EMA provides extensive service and support to families using the SAO to apply to our schools.

This includes:

  • Live and recorded webinars
  • Step-by-step instructions (video and PDF)
  • Full-time professional Customer Service Center available via phone, live chat, & email
  • Electronically receive application fee waivers granted by schools
How are application fees determined and collected for each school?

Each school indicates its domestic and international application fees when it sets up its SAO. As the SAO is accessed and completed online by students, the application fee is collected at the time of application submission via the portal. EMA charges the student/family an administrative fee of $6 per application submitted. However, EMA waives this fee for any student receiving an application fee waiver from a school.

How and when are application fee waivers administered?

Application fee waivers can be issued, tracked, and managed easily via the Member Access Portal (MAP).The decision to issue an application fee waiver rests solely with the school. The SAO provides tools to the school to issue a single fee waiver to a student or to create a batch of application fee waivers for students and families. Schools are allowed an unlimited number of application fee waivers, as they represent the waiving of their own fee.

When and how will schools receive the application fees collected by the SAO?

EMA distributes application fee checks to schools on a quarterly basis with an accompanying student roster for easy reconciliation. Schools receive 100 % of their established application fee.

Are there tools for placement counselors?

The SAO has a built-in advisor workstation made for placement counselors. The workstation allows counselors to track and manage applications on behalf of students and families. With intuitive dashboards and workflows, the workstation offers a full look at the students’ applications before they are sent to schools.


Features include:

  • Ability to preview most recently updated student profiles
  • Download submitted forms as PDFs
  • Add your advisor recommendation to each school application, or just upload ONE for all!
  • Track the SSAT scores that are released to schools
  • Preview online supplement forms to see school-specific requirements
  • Upload, preview, remove, save in draft, and submit recommendations for your advisees
  • Access to fillable PDF recommendation forms
  • Access to score and application archive for easy data analysis
How do schools protect their data and student data with the SAO?

The SAO platform collects and reports personal and sensitive data about families and students applying to schools. We take our responsibility to protect the confidential nature of this data seriously. In order to ensure data is properly protected, we regularly audit our legal compliance with respect to privacy and confidentiality, and we employ a number of active and passive measures to ensure our systems are protected against intrusion and other security breaches.

The data relationship between EMA and member schools is protected by a member services agreement, which all members electronically sign. The data relationship between EMA and students/families is protected by a parent agreement, which all parents electronically sign. Both agreements are in compliance with current industry best practice and are reviewed on a yearly basis.

EMA collects and transmits personally identifiable parent and student information, including credit card numbers, using strong SSL encryption. This data is stored in our systems in encrypted format using strong encryption techniques. At no time are social security numbers collected or stored in any of our service transactions. Our networks and services are actively scanned for vulnerabilities and intrusion detection, and all access to back-end systems is monitored and logged.

End user access to our Family and Member Portals are secured via username and passwords. Passwords are stored in one-way encrypted format and cannot be recovered. Instead, we provide tools for end users to reset their password in the case they are lost.

Regarding the security of the teacher recommendations, families and students assign teacher recommendation forms online. During this process the family must electronically sign a waiver relinquishing their right to view and access the confidential teacher recommendation forms. These confidential teacher recommendations are provided only to schools where the student applies and by which the form is required.

While the SAO is a common application format, it allows for schools to choose from the common application components to create their own school-specific SAO requirements. For example, a school may choose not to require an English teacher recommendation, only a math teacher recommendation. The components not required are not delivered to the school, even though they may be available on the student’s SAO account/file for application to another school. The school only has access to their own applicants and does not see to which other schools a student has applied.

No items found.
Check back later as we add more FAQ's!

Student Prospect List Success Stories

Eric Barber
Crossroads School
for Arts and Sciences (CA)

For Crossroads School in Santa Monica, the admission entry point at sixth grade is particularly challenging. With applicants coming primarily from public schools, there is significant price sensitivity and less of an orientation to the value of an independent school education and the admission process. In addition, the information the admission team receives about students varies widely, depending on whether the student is coming from a public school or private school.

Eric Barber, director of enrollment management at Crossroads, believes The Character Skills Snapshot will help level that playing field. It will also help us “differentiate our admission process from the competitor schools, in that we really are showing that we care about the entire brain and the entire kid, because that's who we are as a school.”

Interested in The Standard Application Online?

Fill out this form to get started!