Aug 3, 2015

The Common App ushers in a new year with a few changes

The 2015-16 Common Application ushered in the new application year on August 1 with a glitzy
new 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.

The homepage does provide links to “Terms & Conditions” and the “Privacy Policy,” both of which offer interesting reading for anyone who wants to know what tracking technologies are in place and how the Common Application uses applicant information.  Suffice it to say the Common App collects a great deal of personally identifiable information and tracks users’ movements around the site to “gain certain behavior information about you that is shared between us and our members and to provide you with targeted advertising from our members even if you leave our site, app, or one of our member’s sites…”

And to explore system requirements, users need to leave the homepage and find a link provided at the bottom of either the registration page or one of the various log-in pages.  The short answer is that regardless of allowable browser, users must make sure the following browser settings are correct to facilitate the kind of tracking described in the Privacy Policy:

  • Javascript must be enabled
  • Cookies must be enabled
  • Popup blockers must be disabled

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.

First, to find the Applicant Solutions Center, which contains lists of “live” Common App member schools (note that about 10 percent of the membership was not live on August 1) and other really useful information like known issues, simply click on either “Terms & Conditions” or “Privacy Policy.”  It’s not too intuitive, but this is where you will not only find the Solutions Center, but also the “Knowledgebase” and “Training Resources,” including videos.  This is also where you might be able to ask a question without officially logging in.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment