Counselors and students alike have always had a love-hate relationship with the Common Application. At the National Association for College Admission Counseling's 2012 conference in Denver last weekend, we got a preview of the upcoming changes to the 2014 Common Application and noticed that not all changes were welcomed warmly. In fact, some high school counselors had such a strong reaction to the changes that the 2014 Common Application quickly became one of the hottest topics at the conference.
If you are wondering why there are any changes at all, accoring to the common application representatives, the current version of the common application can't handle the high volume of applications and so changes are necessary. The new version, which has been thought through by a group of people that includes high school counselors, is going to be released just in time for the class applying in 2014.
So, what's changing?
A Smarter System:
There will be fewer questions per screen versus the current set of 20 questions at a time. This change will make it possible for the system to ask only the relevant questions based on previous answers and save the student precious time. In addition, there will be a help sidebar for each question, address verification and screening, and at-a-glance progress checker to let the students know what part of the application they have not completed as yet.
All rainbows and bunnies so far, what else?
The common application will follow the same fee waiver guidelines as The College Board, ACT and NACAC. If eligible, the fee waiver will apply for all application submissions.
Further, there will be single submission for all applications and payments. Of course, the essay can still be tweaked for each application, however the other logistical stuff will only need to be filled out once.
Here's where the debate got heated:
To limit, or not to limit, that is the question.
The additional information section is going to be text only. No uploads will be allowed. Some counselors found this limiting because additional information such as resumes take a more creative format than text only. Also, the art supplement will be replaced with the integration of SlideRoom. Some counselors were unclear about the point of this change.
While the essay word count of 250-500 words will remain the same, it will now be strongly enforced. One counselor's response - "Have universities look back at their favorite essays over the past few years and see if 500 words really are enough,” resulted in applause from the entire audience.
The room got really heated when the Common Application officials announced that 'topic of your choice' will no longer be an essay prompt. Instead, 4 to 5 new essay topics will be announced every year in March. Most of the room seemed unhappy about this change. Currently, according to the Common Application officials, "topic of your choice" and "signigicant experience" account for about 70% of all essay submissions.
Counselors voiced that the essay section is stressful enough for students and removing the topic of choice option will add undue stress onto their students. Further, it will limit their creativity. However, some counselors in the audience agreed with the change claiming that removing “topic of your choice” helps level the playing field between those who have assistance/guidance in essay writing and those who do not have the means.
We asked what readers thought about the Common Application changes. Here are the poll results:
UPDATE: The common app just released this year's essay topics. Here they are!
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.