College ‘Common Application’ making changes for the better

I heard that there were going to be big changes to the Common Application used by most private colleges next year. Is that true?

There are changes that will be rolled out on Aug. 1, which will impact current juniors.

In spite of the rumors and fear lurking behind this $8 million revision, the changes seem very positive and conducive to a less cumbersome system for students and counselors alike. Generally, the changes should make the whole process faster, more intuitive and smoother than it has run in the past.

For anyone who has ever completed the previous version of the Common Application, he/she knows how difficult it was to tailor the application to each school because it was created to be generic enough to be used by all colleges. With the new Common Application, students will be able to have unlimited editing capacity so that their application can be customized for the particular school.

The new version will still require students to complete similar demographic, school and testing information. However, there will be changes noted in the art and athletic supplement, and most specifically, within the writing section. For years students have always had the choice to answer one of the specific prompts when completing the college essay, but most students chose to pick the option “topic of choice,” which allowed total latitude to write about whatever they fancied.

The new essay topics ask students to either (1) write about a story that is central to their identity, (2) a time they experienced failure, (3) a time when they challenged a belief or idea or (4) a place or environment where are they are content. While these prompts are more specific, they still provide an opportunity for students to decide how they want to appear to admissions personnel.

Each college will have the freedom to pick the essay question(s) they want students to respond to, whereas in the past, all students had to write a short essay about one of their extracurricular activities. Individual colleges may or may not ask for a resume, a research paper or a graded assignment. For that reason, it behooves all students in high school to save their papers from freshmen year onward should you need to download that work onto your application.

Another change that I am excited about is the ability to now have students download recommendations from professionals other than teachers, such as their coach or pastor. All in all, knowing that most students are submitting anywhere from six to 14 applications, anything to alleviate the stress around this process is welcome.

Joan Franklin is the owner of MI College Support, an independent college counseling practice (


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