Changes to the Common Application 2015

For this coming admissions season, the nonprofit Common Application is under a new interim CEO, Paul Mott, and he is intent on eliminating “pointless friction.”

Consequently, the Common Application is reaching out to its applicants, who numbered over 800,000 and will likely exceed 900,000 this coming admissions cycle, and its college members, which will number over 600 from 47 states, DC, and almost a dozen foreign countries, with a more hassle-free and productive application.

Applicants will encounter a more flexible Common Application personal statement. Previously, there were restrictions on the number of versions of the personal statement; now, applicants may compose a statement for each of their colleges. Some believe tailoring personal statements might better show interest in a campus. Possibly, but most colleges use their supplement for information tailored to their campuses.     

It might make sense, though, to customize personal statements if applying to vastly different schools such as Macalester College in Minnesota (liberal) and Hope College in Michigan (religious and conservative). Regardless, the point is applicants are now free to approach the personal statement however they wish.     

Another new feature, added for the applicant, is the ability to print preview completed portions of the application, by screen, at any time.        

The big news, though, is that the personal statement prompts have changed based upon recommendations from surveys sent to ‘6000 school counselors, admissions officers, and students.’ The changes to the prompts are in italics:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience.
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

A point of interest, over 60% of the college admissions and over 45% of constituents (composed of school counselors, students, independent consultants, parents) respondents prefer the first prompt. Whichever prompt selected consider that the primary reader is usually an overworked, blurry-eyed junior admissions officer who typically will spend three minutes with it. Often this reader is more interested with the statement’s approach, tone and topic than worrying about how explicitly an applicant responded to the prompt.  While the prompt should not be ignored, neither should it constrain applicants from showing who they are.  

For the colleges, there is more flexibility than ever before. Colleges can now elect to not even require a Common Application personal statement. Even so, an applicant still has the option to send one and should. The more a college knows about the applicant, and a well written personal statement shows character, the better.

Additionally, colleges don’t need to request recommendations. Previously, one academic or counselor recommendation was required. The UC and Cal State systems don’t take recommendations, so now the Common Application will accommodate member colleges omitting recommendations as well.

Better still for the college members who pay thousands of dollars to be a part of the Common Application family, there will no longer be a penalty for using the Universal Application or their own. As shown by the calamitous Common Application C4 launch of 2013, encouraging multiple application avenues is a good idea.

When the Common Application raises the curtain for its 2015 season on August 1st, it will be letting its applicants and members decide what is best for them: a win for all parties.