C4- The New and Improved Common Application

If you are planning to apply to Notre Dame, Cornell, University of Michigan, Stanford, the University of Saint Andrews (Scotland) or 524 other schools, you might have already encountered the Common App.

Since 1975 the Common App has brought uniformity to the admissions process. After all, once you’ve inputted your extensive list of extracurricular activities (you’re allowed to list 10 on the Common Application) in one application, what a waste to have to do the same thing to yet another application, and then another. The Common App allows you do this just once for all its member schools.

The Common App’s 4th revision (which is why it is called C4), announced on 8 February 2013, will be available online on 1 August 2013. Overall it appears that the Common Application is attempting to apply metrics to track feedback from members and applicants and build them into the application on an ongoing basis. C4, in effect, will be a sentient document that will constantly morph to the needs of the users. There is some innovative thinking in C4.

Let’s look at some of the more prominent changes C4 offers:


  1. Essays: 5 new essay prompts are now featured in the writing section of the main application. The actual prompts can be found at, https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Docs/DownloadForms/2013/EssayAnnouncementFinal.pdf. The elimination of my favorite, “Topic of your choice,” is sad (as it allowed many UC applicants to use one of their personal statements. Californians still might be able to, but it will take some clever editing to get it to directly address the new essay prompts.  The new five essay prompts will be reviewed annually and might change over time depending upon feedback from members. Also, essays can now be up to 650 words up from 500 and must be at least 250 words for the more laconic applicant.
  2. College Supplements: the Common App has streamlined the college supplement into a ‘member page’ and a ‘writing supplement. This is the portion of the Common App that is individualized by each member school and asks about legacy, major interest, in-state status etc.,’ The writing supplement can incorporate resumes, short answers, research papers, graded assignments…whatever the College might want to review. What’s superb about this redesign is that now colleges merely check off what it is they want to use, and their supplements are ready for action. With last year’s version, some colleges didn’t get their supplements set till well into September. Now, colleges will have their supplements ready on the same day the main Common application launches.  
  3. Special Supplements: The Arts supplement will now use a cloud based program called Slideroom.com, which allows applicants to upload portfolios or music samples online. The Athletic supplement will be discontinued, which makes sense, since most of the recruiting is beyond what the Common App can offer.
  4. Non-academic evaluations: for submission by peers (Dartmouth College), coaches, clergy, and others is now offered.


Last year, approximately 690,000 applicants submitted 2.8 million applications through the Common Application site. That’s an average of over 4 applications per applicant. This is impressive, but when you consider that most public schools still have their own application (though over the recent years the Common App has added UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Michigan, with Purdue joining this year), and that there are 2,774 4-year institutions in the US (though keep in mind the Common Application is now international in scope with four UK and one Austrian university added this year), the Common Application is still not all that common.

Certainly there are still selective campuses that do not use the Common Application. MIT and Georgetown immediately come to mind. Georgetown refuses to use the Common Application because, according to Charlie Deacon, the Director of Admissions, “We don't have the Common App because we think that each person is unique and each school is unique.”

In any case, most applicants have too few hours in a day to accommodate too many unique schools. The Common Application represents substantial labor savings. That alone makes it uncommonly applicable to your admissions efforts.