Mar 6, 2015

The Common App seeks feedback on essay prompts

St. Edward's University

Now is your chance to give the folks at the Common Application some feedback on what you think   A brief survey is being circulated in which you may share your opinions on the effectiveness and quality of the questions as well as provide ideas for future prompts.
of the essay prompts they have been using for the past two years.

In February of 2013, the Common App introduced five new essay questions to go along with their new application, which debuted a few months later.  At the time, stakeholders—applicants and their families, member colleges, and counselors—were promised that the questions would be reviewed annually for possible revision.

In the middle of a difficult transition last year, with a new interim CEO, Common App management decided it had enough going on and would limit any review in favor of simply reusing the same five prompts.  It also seemed possible that one year was not enough time for users to form opinions about the quality of the prompts and their ability to generate useful information for colleges.

Since then, the Common App has received considerable unsolicited advice, both for and against the prompts, some of which specifically addressed the concept of “pointless friction,” as introduced by interim CEO Paul Mott.  

At the same time, essay support companies and other advisers to the college application process have written books and built a cottage industry around the prompts as they currently stand.  Suffice it to say that considerable advice has been sold to applicants and their families on the efficacy of individual essay questions.  In fact, one ambitious essay expert recently conducted a poll of Independent Educational Consultants (IEC’s) on the relative advantages of the different prompts presumably assuming, as many seem to, that the prompts will remain the same in the coming year.

But there is another small twist to the story.  As part of his campaign to reduce friction in the college application process, Mott announced last fall that requirements for membership would be changing, presumably to attract more Common App members. Effective July 1, 2015, the Common App would no longer ask colleges to require an “untimed essay” as part of their admissions process.  

This new policy is set to go into effect with the 2015-16 application, which launches on August 1, 2015.  And colleges that are renewing membership as well as a handful of new members are being asked both to select a new pricing structure and to decide whether they want to require a personal statement or essay.

At the same time, the Common App decided to go public with the administrative decision pertaining to which questions or prompts should be used by those colleges continuing to ask for a personal statement.  And an online survey was developed for this purpose.

Applicants (past, present, future) and college advisers are encouraged to provide their input via the survey link provided.  Colleges have a separate (and possibly more heavily weighed) survey to complete.

Since the Common App has promised publication of the essay prompts for 2015-16 by the end of March, survey results will have to be compiled and decisions made in a relatively short amount of time.  Regardless, it will be interesting to see what folks think and how creative they are in their suggestions.

Will there be a ground swell of support for the “Topic of your choice” prompt or will the Common App receive some more esoteric ideas like “What do you hope to find over the rainbow?”—a question used by St. Edward’s University on its school-based alternative to the Common Application?

Note that the survey will only be open through Monday, March 9, after which the Common App will have to quickly compile and hopefully publish results before unveiling the prompts for 2015-16.

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