Common App 5

On August 1st, Common Application 5 (CA5) launched. After two weeks of application writing, it appears to be stable. It only took 5 minutes to find the registration screen after initially landing in the CA5 Knowledgebase off Google. I consider that reasonably intuitive. To date, over a dozen students I’m working with have uncovered most of the supplements they were looking for. The stability alone is a relief after the crashes of CA4.

To those entering the college admissions world this year, the Common Application is used by over 550 member colleges. CA5 is composed of a main application, containing the same information as the University of California application: personal, school, activities, honors, along with a 250-650 word main essay addressing one of five prompts. Additionally, many of the member colleges also have supplements, questions, and information tailored by individual schools. Stanford, for example, has a supplement with a series of short answer questions, such as list your favorite books (50 word limit), or write a note to your future roommate (100-250 word limit).  

Be aware that some colleges are a bit late to the party. The Scrotums of Rhode Island School of Design have yet to post their supplemental application. Others, such as the University of Chicago, ask whether you want to have the questions submitted through the Common Application or the Chicago site. I don’t know what difference this makes, but I’m sure it’s something very intelligent that I just can’t understand.

Here are some tips for those using CA5 that might come in handy.

Versioning: If you wish to change your main essay (the 650 word essay on the main application) after you have submitted it to one of your schools, you are allowed up to three versions. Two years ago, an applicant could create 10 versions of the main essay for submissions—the current CA5 is far less generous.

Recommendations: An applicant can now have recommendations submitted by coaches, supervisors, or art instructors using CA5. Two years ago, only counselors and teachers could submit recommendations; CA5 is open to all those who want to recommend an applicant. Remember, however, that some schools, such as Harvey Mudd, specifically ask for recommendations from a science/math teacher and a humanities/social studies teacher. Accommodate your schools.

Listing College Credit Courses: If a course grants both high school and college credit (e.g. AP Chemistry) it should be listed under ‘Current Year Courses’ section since it satisfies a high school requirement. However, if a course is taken at a college, completely separate from high school (and no high school credit is received) then it should be listed under the College and University section.

Supplements: The Arts supplement in CA5 is now through Each school receives its own branded portal in which applicants apply and reviewers can privately evaluate submitted materials. Many of the major art programs such as RISD, Pratt, Carnegie Mellon, Calarts, Stanford, have Slideroom integrated into their supplement. To find whether a portfolio submission has been accepted by a school, the applicant will see a link on the school’s CA5 supplement page. The Athletic supplement has been discontinued. Word has it that admissions will collect important athletic participation from the application and may opt to forward it to the athletic department.

Essay formatting: What you see is not what you necessarily (WYSIWYG) get with CA5.  If you type your essay directly into the application paragraph breaks will appear in the text box or print preview. However, if you paste in your essay from Word, which is probably the way 95% of applicants work, then the applicant might need to edit the paragraph breaks after the paste. Extra spaces in an essay are removed automatically by CA5 when an applicant clicks ‘Continue’ after a submission, meaning one cannot indent paragraphs. To an applicant obsessive about the look of his or her application, this attribute of CA5 is irritating. Colleges are aware of this formatting flaw in CA5 and compensate accordingly when viewing an application.

Tech support: After the shaky launch of CA4 last year, CA5 is intent on keeping a list of technical issues encountered. The list can be found at Common Application site.

Now you’re ready to work on CA5. Regardless of formatting flaws, this version is light years better than its predecessor.