The 2015-16 Common Application ushered in the new application year on August 1 with a glitzynew homepage and a few welcome improvements including an easy-to-use print preview process and an updated dashboard with icons designed to guide students through various writing requirements.
Clearly some thought has gone into upgrading the look and feel of the Common App, and the new homepage represents a major departure from earlier versions. There’s definitely intent to make the application more appealing to users through creative use of color and design, which carries as far as the log-in page, after which the application reverts to the more familiar format of previous years.
But while far more handsome, the new homepage is far less useful. Gone are obvious links to membership lists, application requirements, training resources, board members, and the interactive search for colleges. By oversight or design, the Common App now seems to want to force visitors to establish an account and log in to get what should be pretty basic information about the membership and the application itself.
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To view and print PDF files, the Common App also recommends Adobe Reader 10 or higher.
For visitors to the site who aren’t quite ready to commit to opening an account with the Common App, there are a few ways around the lack of information immediately accessible via the homepage.
If you are looking for the Application Requirements Grid, you have to be a bit more creative. Again, it’s not particularly convenient or intuitive, but if you go to the Common App’s blog titled, Promoting College Access, you’ll find a downloadable grid, which you can print out. Note that the grid is not interactive, is only as accurate as what the colleges tell the Common App and has a few glitches, which will no doubt be corrected as more colleges complete their paperwork and go “live.” Nevertheless, it’s a handy tool for users especially insofar as it provides information on deadlines as well as which colleges require (or don't require) what kinds of recommendations. Too bad it’s not anywhere immediately accessible on the Common App site!
Once you establish an account and log in, you see a couple of minor changes to the application. On the “Dashboard,” you’ll note a new “Writing Requirements” column outfitted with some new icons indicating whether writing requirements are required or optional. It also includes an “Additional Details” tag identifying program-specific requirements. For example, Yale’s “Additional Details” tag states, “Applicants who select Yale Engineering will be required to complete an additional writing question.” Evidently these tags are designed to give applicants a "heads up" about stealth (or not-so-obvious) essays.
Because the Common App essay or personal statement is no longer required by all colleges (about 133 or about 22 percent are NOT requiring the essay according to the Requirements Grid), extra effort has been made to clarify which colleges do and which do not care if the applicant submits the essay. Simply go to the Common App tab and click on “Writing,” and the app will sort the student’s list into two columns “Required” and “Not Required.”
But because many colleges have “streamlined” their applications by shifting short answer and essay prompts (some triggered by answers to other “Questions”) to the Common App itself, the only way to determine how many additional prompts must be answered would be to research each individual college, making sure that all member-specific questions are answered.
Finally, the Common App now provides a “Preview” button on each page. A PDF may be generated and printed from the Preview, BUT only if the applicant has answered all the questions on the page.
The Common App promises there is more to come in the way of expanded resources and richer content to help students and families “demystify” the college admissions process. At the same time, staff will be monitoring how the application works and welcomes recommendations for clarification or improvement via the Applicant Solutions Center.