Change is Coming to The Common Application

Nearly four decades ago, 15 private colleges founded the Common Application in order to offer a standardized means for students to apply to college; however, the “Common App” as it is known, will lose some of its consistency when the board launches an eight million dollar revamp next year. While most of the application will remain the same – such as the familiar layout – the differences are already prompting debate among admissions representatives, school counselors and independent educational consultants. Here are the highlights that are causing an uproar in some quarters and applause in others.

Say Goodbye to Topic of Your Choice. The first, and most contentious, change is the elimination of the “topic of your choice” essay question. For many years, students were offered six options, including “topic of your choice,” which allowed students to be creative in developing their personal essay. According to The Chronicle For Higher Education, some counselors feel that this change will reduce individuality and cause students more stress as they will be required to fit into a “particular mold” rather than expressing themselves about a topic that best represents them. Yet, other counselors feel that this will “level the playing field” because all students will answer the same questions. As many of our clients use “topic of your choice” we will miss this option that enabled students to brainstorm freely and write about a topic that was important to them. The new Common App will now only offer 4-5 more general prompts, which will likely change each year.

Strict Essay Word Limits. In an effort to rein in the number of words students use when writing their personal statement, Common App with enforce the 250-500 word limit by generating an error message if the essay is over or under word count.  Students will cut and paste their essay into this section instead of uploading a document as they have in the past.

Streamlined Application Pages. One constructive change reported at a recent meeting of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors is how many questions students will see per page as they complete the application; while not vital, some students may feel less overwhelmed when facing the new, streamlined application. Other alterations include restructuring the process to be more efficient such as by hitting “submit” only once for the application, supplement, and fee. Currently, students must take three separate actions to complete these steps.

No More Resume Uploads. Additionally, the Common App will still feature an Additional Information section, but will reduce its length in order to hinder students from uploading personal resumes, which many colleges did not favor, feeling it was redundant to the activities section. Similar to how students will now submit their personal statement, the Common App will require students to cut and paste information into this section, which is typically used to explain a discrepancy in their academic record as a result of a learning difference or health issue, or to elaborate on an activity that requires more explanation such as science research or a business case study. As a result, students will have to rein in their creativity by abiding by a particular length and layout.

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