Mar 7, 2013

The Common Application Offers a First Look at CA4

In a series of advisories dubbed “First Look,” the Common Application today began the process of formally introducing the CA4—the next generation of the Common App, set to launch on August 1, 2013.

After a two-year, $8 million development process, the new Common App boasts of a more modern, simplified user interface offering many of the features requested by member colleges, counselors, and applicants.   

To accommodate these changes, application operations, maintenance, and support will no longer be outsourced to a third-party technology company.  By July 2014, all technology and staff will be entirely housed within the Common Application—a tremendous undertaking by any standard.

In the meantime, here is a sneak peek at some of the basic changes CA4 will offer starting this August:
  • CA4 will be an online-only application.  It will no longer be available in paper form or as a downloadable document for mailing (counselors and teachers will still have the option to submit on paper).
  • The Arts Supplement will be replaced by for colleges having an "exclusive" arrangement with the Common Application (no competing applications)—a perk of membership.  All other members may “host” their own arts forms if needed.
  • The Athletic Supplement will be discontinued.  Information about athletic participation will be collected on the application and available to coaches if admissions offices choose to forward it.
  • The process of providing “alternate” versions of applications to individual colleges will be simplified.  Students will be able to make unlimited edits to the application with the exception of the essay.  The essay will allow for three submitted versions with corrections and updates permitted. 
  • In CA4, college-specific questions will be collected in two separate areas—the Member Page (an expanded and customized version of the current Future Plans section) and the new Writing Supplement.
  • The Writing Supplement will collect short-answer or essay-length responses to specific questions along with submissions such as resumes, research papers, and graded assignments for colleges wishing to invite them. Students will submit using either uploads or text-entry—depending on the college’s preference. Note that the “extracurricular” short answer question will be moved here as an option for colleges.
  • College-specific questions on the Member Page and Writing Supplement will go online August 1, with the launch of the system each year—no more delays on the part of colleges.
  • The required essay will offer 5 specific essay prompts and will enforce 250- to 650-word boundaries.
  • In addition to the essay, the CA4 will offer two additional writing opportunities—additional information for applicants wishing to report circumstances or qualifications not reflected elsewhere and a separate required explanations section based on responses to questions about discipline, criminal history, etc.
  • Outside of the optional Writing Supplement, all written documents will be text-entry only.  Students can compose their responses directly in the application or cut-and-paste a response from another word processing program, and the CA4 will allow for basic formatting (bold, italics, underline, and accented characters).
  • The CA4 will introduce a new form for non-academic evaluations that can be submitted by peers, coaches, clergy, instructors, or others.  Each member college will decide whether they want them or not.
While many questions remain, the “First Look” memos resolve a number of lingering concerns about application basics.  If colleges want them, uploads for resumes will be permitted. Counselors may tailor recommendations by submitting paper forms, and the process for editing or changing the form has been simplified.  Essays will allow for basic formatting, and everything will go online at once on August 1.

How well the new software will work on Apple products remains to be seen, but the emphasis on mobile/touchscreen devices is a good sign.

In the meantime, the Common Application is working with various membership organizations to provide training sessions and answer counselor questions—all to ensure a smooth start on August 1.

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