May 11, 2015

6 huge changes for the Common App in 2015-16

Although months away, the debut of the 2015-16 Common Application will include six huge changes reflecting recommendations made by counselors and applicants over the past two years—since the “new” Common App came online in August 2013.

As he took over responsibility for day-to-day operations, the Common App's interim CEO Paul Mott has repeatedly underscored his desire to remove instances of “pointless friction” in how the application is perceived and actually performs for applicants, recommenders and member institutions paying for the service.  

This year, the Common App looks for a membership of about 600 colleges and universities many of which prefer to keep administrative headaches to a minimum, while taking full advantage of the increasing numbers of applicants the Common App has attracted in the past.

And as administrative staff continues to solicit and respond to concerns and suggestions for improvement from among various stakeholder groups, the Common App has already announced the six important changes for next year:

  • No essay.  Starting with the 2015-16 application year, Common App member colleges will have the choice of whether or not to require the Common App personal statement.  If the personal statement is required for a particular college, that requirement will be enforced during the submission process.  In other words, students will NOT be able to submit an application without this element.  For colleges not requiring a personal statement, applicants will be given the option to submit if they wish to do so.

  • Unlimited essay edits.  For the first time, the Common App will place no restrictions on the number of times a student may edit or change their personal statement.   Similar to other parts of the application, the personal statement may revised or altogether changed with every submission. By lifting this restriction, the Common App effectively gives students the ability to “tailor” personal statements to individual colleges—a very nice way to demonstrate interest in and knowledge of a particular institution.

  • Print preview anytime.  In the coming year, applicants will be able to “preview” the completed portions of their application—screen by screen—at any point, not just as part of the submission process.  By clicking the new preview button located on each page of the application, students will be able to generate a printable view of completed sections of the applications.  Note that if the applicant has not yet entered any information into a particular section, that section will appear blank on the preview.

  • New prompts.   After assessing feedback from various quarters, the Common App completely deleted one prompt, added a new option and tinkered in minor ways with the other four personal statement choices.  The new prompts are as follows (changes are marked in italics):

    1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
    2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
    3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
    4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
    5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  • Optional recommendations.  During the coming year, member colleges and universities will have the option of whether to require any recommendations.  Previously, membership standards required institutions to ask for at least one recommendation from “a school-based counselor or academic teacher.”  For 2015-16, this will not be the case.
  • No penalties for competing applications.  One of the biggest changes for member institutions is a new pricing plan that removes all financial penalties previously levied against colleges using one or more applications in addition to the Common Application.  While some high schools and recommenders may express a preference for the Common App, students should have greater flexibility in the application product they choose to submit.  Different applications offer different benefits like the ability to upload personal statements and resumes or to link to online media.  They may also offer different wording or requirements.  Smart students will consider all applications offered by a particular institution and pick the one to submit that best or most accurately represents the credentials they wish colleges to consider.  Note that this year, some colleges offered as many as four different options (including a paper option). 
Look for the Common App to continue announcing changes or improvements for the coming year.  Given the increased competition, the application and its staff will need to become a little more nimble and responsive to stakeholder requests if they want to remain a powerful force in the industry.

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