Nov 10, 2014

The Common Application looks to the future

Penn's Admissions Dean Furda is Chair of the Common App Board

In an email circulated to Common Application member colleges and universities last week, interim CEO Paul Mott provided a few insights into priorities and possible changes for 2015-16.

Under some threat by a group of institutions investigating the possibility of collaborating on a new “common” application for like-minded colleges, the Common App started the process of shifting gears and shoring up
the existing membership by promising change for the coming year.

“What you told us these past 9+ months could not have been clearer,” Mott explained.  “You want to continue to be a Member Association—which means that we must ensure that your opinions are heard and considered, and that what we do is guided by what you tell us….”

To do this, the executive staff intends to work on clarifying the organization’s vision, fixing governance, and articulating what the application will look like going forward.

In his email, Mott provided a sneak peek into some of what is in the works for 2015-16:

  • The new Mission Statement will officially take effect on July 1, 2015 and will no longer require colleges to agree to the old definition of holistic review for membership.  More specifically, college will no longer have to require an untimed writing sample (an essay or personal statement) or a recommendation as part of their application process.
  • Coming in November will be a new pricing plan for members that will be based on “level of functionality and service” as opposed to exclusivity agreements.  In other words, the more complicated the application in terms of supplements and requirements, the more expensive it will be for the member college. 
  • The Common app will offer no less than three “versions” to its membership:  the one currently offered (most colleges believe this offers sufficient functionality); a “thinned down” version; and an even more “robust” platform.  Working titles for these options are “Full,” Standard,” and “Premium,” respectively, combined with an “Essential” version of the application that cuts across the entire membership.

What does all this mean for student-applicants and their advisers?  

The changes proposed in pricing could result in higher application fees for those colleges at the “Premium” level.  And probably, the differing levels of application complexity will add to complications already experienced by applicants sorting through member questions, supplements, and stealth essay requirements.

On the plus side, the desire to reduce “pointless friction” in the application process as claimed in the new Mission Statement could result in a return to a “Topic of your Choice” essay prompt, or a lifting of restrictions on the number of essay versions, or could even open the doors to tailored recommendations from teachers and school officials.  At a minimum, it’s certain that some part of the membership will no longer require essays or recommendations.

For the moment, the Common App promises to look at recommendations for the future as provided by the public (students, parents, recommenders, counselors, advisers) through the CA Help Desk and to review the effectiveness of elements of the application such as the essay prompts.  Change will be vetted before implementation, and the various stakeholders in the application process will receive notices as change is implemented.

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