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What the 2017-2018 Common App Changes Mean for You

Welcome back to Part 2 of our blog that highlights ten of the biggest changes to this year’s Common Application. In Part 1, we revealed tips on who exactly needs to complete the new Courses and Grades section of the application, and the dangers of using Google Drive when transferring your essays from Google Docs into the Common App. But now, let’s turn our attention to six additional Common App changes.
5. Sex/Gender Clarifications

To be more sensitive to those students who do not comfortably fall into the male-female binary, the Common App no longer asks students to indicate their “sex assigned at birth” during the account creation process.  Rather, on the Profile page of the application, students will be asked to bubble in either a male or female sex and then immediately be given the opportunity to clarify their gender identity in the space below.

Common App Changes

Insider’s Tip: Students have 100 characters (including spaces) to provide details about their gender identity on this optional question.

6. Two New Activity Headings

There are now 30 different activity types available on the Activities page of the application, thanks to the addition of internship and social justice options on the dropdown menu.

Common App Changes to Activity Headings

Insider’s Tip: Think critically about whether your volunteer efforts would best be categorized as community service or social justice on the dropdown menu. Picking up trash in your local park or spending time with seniors in a nursing home are prime examples of community service. Raising money for new immigrants in your community or serving meals to the homeless illustrate a commitment to human rights and equality.

7. Easier Activity Removal

Staying right here on the Activities page, students will notice a little trash can icon in the bottom right-hand corner of each activities listing. If you need to delete an entire activity, simply click on the trash can. (You might be wondering how this is an improvement on last year’s application because it seems so basic, right? Trying to explain the old method would take far too long, so let’s all just be glad that this process has been streamlined!)

Common App Changes Activity Removal

Insider’s Tip: Once you delete an activity, you cannot get it back. None of the information you previously entered will be saved, so think twice before you remove it.

8. Two New Personal Essay Prompts (and Three Revisions)

We love the two new essay choices available to students on the Common App, especially number six, which reads: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? To learn more about the changes to this year’s essay options, and to determine which one might be the best choice for you, be sure to read our blog and take this quiz.

9. Advisor Account

Students who would like a trusted adult (such as a mentor, college counselor, or teacher) to review a copy of their application now have two options. As in previous years, students can opt to share their Common App username and password with the advisor, or—thanks to a new feature of the Common App this year—students can invite the adult to create an advisor account via the Recommenders and FERPA page of the application. There are pros and cons to both of these options. While some advisors prefer to proofread applications by directly logging into their students accounts, be aware that by giving an advisor your login credentials, you’re essentially granting them full and unrestricted access to the application itself. If they make any changes to your application or mistakenly delete an entry, you’ll need to review and potentially correct those errors yourself. On the other hand, by allowing an advisor to see a read-only version of your application, they won’t be able to conduct a line-by-line review of each Common App page and catch potential omissions.

Common App Changes Advisor Account

Insider’s Tip: Students can invite up to three advisors at a time to review a read-only version of their application, and this invitation can be revoked at any time by clicking on the trash can icon.

10. Word Count Limits

Thank you, Common App, for developing this oh-so-simple tool for showing students the minimum and maximum word counts for all essays. Sometimes colleges neglect to inform applicants of a suggested word limit (leading to frantic questions of “how ‘short’ should a ‘short paragraph’ be?”), and at other times the text box actually provides more room than the essay instructions would imply. Now students can easily see both the high and low end ranges for all text box entries.

Common App Changes to Word Counts

Insider’s Tip: Just because a text box may allow you to exceed the recommended maximum word limit, don’t be tempted to go overboard. “Roughly 250 words” can comfortably mean up to 275 words, but submitting an essay of 300 words may be pushing it.

The Common App has done it again! Every year they continue to make practical and useful enhancements to their platform that all seek to enrich the user experience. And students can expect to see continued improvements year after year, especially now that there’s another major player competing in the college application market—the Coalition Application. But one million students can’t be wrong. Thanks to the dynamic versatility of the application, the wide range of colleges that accept it, and its easy-to-use interface, the Common Application continues to be our number one choice for students applying to college.

Check out Elyse’s other 2017-2018 Common App articles:

Common App Resources CTA

Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.