2013 Common Application Changes

common-application-changesLast week, the Common Application revealed some major changes to its application format. Many students are worried about what this means for them. Chances are that if you are applying as a freshman this coming fall, you will be applying for the first time; so these changes will not feel like changes at all. Let’s step back for a moment and talk about what the Common Application is in the first place. Several years ago, the Common Application was founded to help streamline the admissions process. Currently there are about 500 colleges across the United States that allow students to apply through this site.

While the Common Application allows students to save themselves the trouble of having to enter some personal information multiple times, most schools require supplements that specifically ask the questions that each college will want to know. Students should try to personalize each application and not take the easy way out.  

So let’s discuss these new changes! For many years the Common Application gave students the option of six relatively general essay questions to choose among. Of those topics, one was “Topic of Your Choice.” This fall, the questions will be a bit more pointed. They are still broad enough to be suited for the millions of students that will submit applications. Below are the new questions:

  1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  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 place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there and why is it meaningful to you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In addition to the new prompts, the Common Application will no longer allow students to upload documents. Rather, students will have to paste essays into a text box. This means that all formatting, including underlining and italics, will be lost. This simply means that you will need to rethink your style a bit. Additionally, you will be limited to 650 words. The 500 limit that Common Application introduced two years ago was restrictive, but 650 should be ample. If you love to write long form, this will be a great exercise in help you to become more frugal with your words. Fundamentally these questions are still focused on getting you to discuss what makes you tick.

This year, I will give the same advice I have been giving for years – what do you want colleges to know about you that they cannot gather from your transcript, test scores, and extracurricular list? What will you contribute to the university? What experiences have defined or influenced your perspective? What adversities have you overcome? While the structure of the Common Application might be changing, its purpose remains constant. These new essay prompts are simply meant to help colleges get to know you a bit better so that they can make the best decision when they read your application.

Don’t get caught up in these changes. Rather, focus on you and how you can have the best possible college application.

Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at purvi@insight-education.net or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.