Jan 19, 2016

The Common App will no longer allow members to ask for college lists


Rice is one of many Common App members asking for college lists

A year ago, the Common Application was facing a problem. Todd Rinehart, associate chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver and chair of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Admission Practices Committee called out the organization for taking a hands-off position on the practice of allowing colleges to ask candidates where else they were applying.

“The philosophy has always been the college application process is stressful and complex enough, and we don’t need to add yet another layer to the tangled web by posing a question that puts the student in an awkward position,” explained Rinehart in a column he penned for the NACAC Bulletin.

Paul Mott, CEO of the Common App, responded at the time that it wasn’t his responsibility to enforce a rule that was loosely stated and seldom policed as part of the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP).

“To me, this is an inappropriate question to put to college applicants, but I am here to serve my Members, and any personal opinion I may have is not especially relevant,” said Mott.

And it was a big and growing problem. For the 2015-16 application year, no less than 125 Common App members—double the number from the previous year—asked for college lists from their applicants. It appeared to many observers that the uptick in interest was a direct result of plans on the part of the Department of Education to discontinue the practice of sharing college lists provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

In other words, colleges were determined to get the information—one way or the other.

But all that changed in October when NACAC’s General Assembly voted to approve new ethical guidelines relative to the question. Effective next year, NACAC member colleges will no longer be able to ask candidates to provide a list of other colleges to which they are applying.

The new policy specifically states colleges must “not ask candidates, their schools, their counselors, or others to list or rank their college or university preferences on applications or other documents.”

So where did that leave the Common App?

According to Scott Anderson, senior director at the Common Application, the problem was solved. As part of a fundamental change in its mission statement last year, the Common App no longer requires its institutional members to also be members of NACAC. BUT because the Common App remains an member of NACAC, it is required to uphold the SPGP.

“The question will no longer be part of the Common Application,” explained Anderson. “As members of NACAC, we are bound by the SPGP.” 

And the SPGP could not be clearer.  After this year, colleges will not be able to use the Common Application to ask candidates where else they are applying to college.

But will this change cover institutions asking the question outside of the Common App on “other” or alternate applications?  Not if they are not members of NACAC. And not all four-year colleges and universities are members.  

Will this cover institutions asking the question as part of an interview process?  Not so far, although that loophole could easily be repaired.

In the meantime, NACAC and the Common Application are taking important first steps toward making the process of applying to college a little less stressful and a bit more reasonable—if only for the removal of this one obnoxious question from the bank of what is allowable.

Once in a while, just when the college admissions process looks most like an immutable force, a small crack in the fa├žade appears. And with the support of dedicated professionals determined to do the right thing, change happens.

Thank you to Todd Rinehart and the NACAC Admission Practices Committee for making even the most cynical among us believe it’s possible.

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