The Common Application recently announced some important changes for the upcoming admissions season based on feedback from students and nearly 600 member colleges.
Although the new Common App won’t “go live” until Aug. 1, these changes have important implications for students getting a head start on their college application essays.
Here are the updates:
1. Revised essay prompts
Minor changes have been made to essays No. 1 and No. 2. There are no changes in No. 3 and No. 5. The No. 4 essay, however, has been completely revamped. Here’s a comparison. The changed language is in italics.
Old: 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.
New: 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.
Old: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
New: 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?
Old/New (no changes from previous year): Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Old: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is is meaningful to you?
New: 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.
Old/New (no changes from previous year): Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
2. Unlimited essay revisions
In the past, applicants were permitted to revise their Common App essays three times. This year, they will be able to make as many edits and revisions as they like. This means that students will have an opportunity to tailor their Common App essay to a college and use the essay to demonstrate a specific interest in a school.
3. Colleges can make the essay optional
Until this year, the Common App essay was required for all member colleges. Now, colleges will be able to choose whether or not to require the essay. If the essay is not required, students will still have an opportunity to submit it.
4. Streamlined access to program-specific essays
Some programs or majors require separate application essays. In the past, applicants had to go through each application and respond to the right questions in the form to reveal these special requirements. This resulted in unwelcome surprises for applicants who waited until the last minute to complete their online applications. During the next admissions season, program-specific essay requirements will be identified up front for each college.
5. Colleges can make recommendations optional
Previously, all Common App member colleges were required to ask applicants for at least one recommendation from a school-based counselor or teacher. In 2015-2016, colleges will have the option to waive that requirement.
6. Upgraded preview feature
Rather than having to wait until the submission process to preview their applications, students will be able to preview the finished portions of their applications at any time.
Start early but don't stress
You’ll notice that many of these changes are focused on the Common App essay. A few helpful tips for those students who would like to get a head start on their college apps:
Even if your colleges do not require the Common App essay, it may still be advantageous to submit it. Now is a great time to start brainstorming and writing your essay.
If you haven’t already done so, consider creating a list of all the reasons you are interested in each college. Later you can use this list to create college-specific versions of your Common App essays. This might be helpful, for example, if a college does not require a “why do you want to apply to our college?” essay and you have compelling reasons to apply that you won’t have an opportunity to express in another part of your application.
Check out last year’s supplemental essay questions for your colleges. I don’t recommend starting those essays until they have officially been updated for the upcoming season but because many colleges will not change their supplemental requirements, you can use last year’s prompts for brainstorming.
My last but perhaps most important suggestion is this: Don’t stress! Enjoy the summer sun, hang out with friends, and make the most of your time off (#YOLO). There’s no need to kick your college applications into high gear just yet, although it is a good idea to carve out some time to get crackin’ on the essay.