CommonApp Set to Make Major Changes

This year, students applying through the Common Application have the choice to answer 1 of 6 essay prompts. These prompts are broad; one, for example, asks students to write about a significant experience. One popular prompt is entirely open-ended, asking students to write about a topic of his or her choice.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of August 1st 2013, students will no longer have the option to write about the “topic of their choice.” They will be give 4 or 5 prompts that will change from year to year. 

Several other changes are coming as well:

  • No Resume Students will no longer be able to upload a resume as part of the CommonApp. That is, unless the college “opts in” to having that option.
  • Word Limits All essays now must be between 250 and 500 words. Students who exceed or fall short of this requirement will be given an “error message” and will not be able to submit their application.
  • Online Only The CommonApp is doing away with paper applications entirely.
  • Streamlined Fee-Waiver System Students only have to indicate once if they qualify for a fee-waiver. This will then allow them to apply to every school through that fee-waiver versus the current model which requires students to submit individual fee-waivers to every college.

While the Collegiate usually seeks to stay away from opinion pieces, this is a troubling development that currently isn’t receiving enough attention. 

Four hundred and eighty-eight college currently use the CommonApp, many of which are among the most prestigious colleges and universities in the world. The changes the CommonApp has decided to make go in the wrong direction — toward a one-size-fits-all college application process.

Out-of-the-box students no longer get the freedom to write about whatever they wish on their essay. They won’t get to convey their voice — the purported goal of the application essay. Students who can write concisely are forced to fill up more space. They no longer get the same kind of ability to determine what is and what isn’t important for them to include. 

While some officials say limiting the prompts levels the playing field by allowing all students to write about the same few topics, it devalues a whole slew of experiences that don’t fit into those nice, neat boxes.

Even more concerning is the inability for students to submit a resume to elaborate on their extracurricular activities and accomplishments. As it stands now, the CommonApp is largely unsuited for students who pursue unusual extracurricular activities. Applicants are given only a few words to describe each activity in which they participate. While this may not hurt students are members of the track team or another conventional activity, it seriously harms students who participate in activities that are difficult to explain. For example, if a student developed an online political journal that focused on issues of environmental policy, it is nearly impossible for that student to convey the nature of the activity within the confines of the CommonApp format.

Fortunately, these unusual students have had the opportunity to submit resumes in the additional information portion of the CommonApp. They were able to explain their activities and accomplishments adequately and arrange their activities thematically. Now, applicants have this opportunity taken away from them and will be unable to convey who they are as both students and citizens to respective colleges. 

These changes to the CommonApp will have a major effect on how every participant college and university will admit students. It limits the ability for individual institutions to employ truly holistic admissions policies. Cookie-cutter students who come from traditionally privileged backgrounds with high grades and SAT scores will be favored. Students who think outside of the box, have unique family circumstances, or just don’t fit the mold will be penalized in the admissions process.

It is my sincere hope that colleges either discontinue their relationship with the CommonApp or create supplemental applications that allow every student from every walk of life to convey who they are as students.

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