The Common Application has been around for a long time. Since 1975 to be exact. And in the past several years, not only has the number of member institutions grown by leaps and bounds (today nearly 700 colleges in 48 states and 14 foreign countries accept the Common App), the application platform itself has become easier and more intuitive to use.
Last month, officials at the Common App conducted a webinar outlining the seven biggest enhancements to the 2016-2017 Common Application. For new applicants who have yet to create their Common App accounts, these changes will likely blend seamlessly into your application experience. But for those eager beavers who have already begun the process of completing their Common Applications, look out! Some of these new features will effectively erase your previously-inputted responses. The bulk of your old application, however, should roll over without difficulty.
# 1. New Registration Types
Whether you are a brand new applicant or you’re working off of a “rolled over” 2015-2016 Common App account, you will have three options when selecting your registration type:
- Education Professional, or
- Parent or Other Adult
In previous years, students were sometimes stymied by two of the options: “applicant planning to enroll within the next 12 months” and “other student.” Now it’s crystal clear that students— regardless of when they plan to enroll in college—should always select the “student” option. School counselors, independent counselors, and parents should be aware that Common App accounts they create will be identical to the apps that their students see. The only difference is that any applications that are actually submitted from an “education professional” or “parent/other adult” account will not be evaluated by the colleges that receive them.
#2. Gender Identity
This is a nuanced change, but one with important ramifications. When selecting their biological sex in the “account creation” portion of the application, students will now be asked, “sex assigned at birth.” While the two options provided remain the same—male and female—students should know they will now have the opportunity to share additional information about their gender identity in a short-answer response within the main application (under “Profile” → “Personal Information”).
#3. Enhanced College Search
On the “college search” tab of the application, students could previously search for future colleges using a limited range of parameters, such as distance from a certain zip code or having an application deadline on or after a specific date. Within the new 2016-17 Common Application, students can now search to their hearts content! Thanks to four additional search features, applicants can identify colleges:
- without application fees,
- that do not require the main Common App essay and/or any college-specific essays,
- with flexible or “never required” SAT/ACT score policies, and
- that do not require teacher letters of recommendation.
While some students might be rejoicing they can now locate particular colleges that more closely match their needs and interests, the former admissions counselor in me can’t help but feel it’s the colleges that really benefit from this added search feature. Now that students can quickly sort among hundreds of colleges for those with less time-consuming applications, those colleges will likely see a significant uptick in applications (which ultimately results in lower acceptance rates and more rejection letters in the spring).
#4. Saving User Work
Don’t you just hate it when you’ve spent time and energy carefully completing an online form, only to hit your browser’s “back” button by mistake, or your computer crashes, or you step away from the computer and the program logs you off? Apparently, Common App users hated that too! Now students’ work will automatically be saved every 90 seconds. And the application will also automatically save before a student attempts to upload a separate document, such as a résumé or supplemental essay response. Hooray for technology!
#5. Reporting New SAT Scores
We could dedicate an entire blog to the redesigned SAT (oh wait, we did!), but today we’re just going to focus on how students will be able to self-report their old and new SAT scores on the 2016-2017 Common Application. Please note: the entire “testing” section of the Common App is optional. Only students who choose to complete this section will notice these changes. The Common App asks students if they “wish to self-report scores or future test dates for any of the following standardized tests.” Now, in addition to the ACT, SAT subject tests, AP and IB results, students will have the option of listing scores from the:
- SAT (before March 2016), and
- SAT (March 2016 or after).
Although some colleges have indicated they will mix and match students’ best scores across both versions of the SAT, it’s important to note that the Common App will not permit you to list solely a top score from the old SAT and a top score from the new SAT. In other words, if an applicant indicates that they want to self-report both the old and new SATs, they will be required to add their strongest critical reading, math, and writing score from the old SAT as well as their strongest evidence-based reading/writing and math score from the new SAT. And students who wish to self-report results of the new SAT and also elected to take the optional essay section will be prompted to list their essay score, as well.
#6. Improved Refugee, Asylee, and Visa Information Collection
On the “Profile” → “Citizenship” page of the Common App, students will be asked to identify their citizenship. New on the dropdown menu this year are the options “U.S. Permanent Resident” and “U.S. Refugee or Aslyee.” (Last year, “permanent resident” and “refugee” shared the same line, while asylee wasn’t an option.) Additionally, all non-U.S. citizens will be required to indicate their currently held visa type (if applicable), as well as their intended visa type. The option “I do not know which visa I will hold” will be available under this latter question.
#7. Review and Submit Tab
When it’s time to submit your Common Application, you’ll note there are potentially three main components to complete:
- All sections of the Common App,
- College X Supplemental Questions (note that not all colleges have a supplement to the Common App), and
- Recommenders and FERPA.
If any one of these sections happens to be incomplete, students will now be able to click that link on the “My Colleges” tab, review the necessary information, and begin the application submission process.
All in all, these changes make the Common Application experience even more student focused and user-friendly. Once the new 2016-2017 Common App launches on August 1, we will be sure to return with additional insider tips and insights to make your college application process that much easier. August 1 is just days away. Get ready for the fun to commence!