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The New Common Application: What to Expect With CA4

Becky Leichtling

Written by Becky Leichtlingon July 3rd, 2013

I got my start in admissions as an undergrad at Carleton, first as a tour guide and admissions volunteer, then as a senior interviewer of prospective students. As assistant director of admissions at Tufts, I oversaw campus tours and open houses as the outreach coordinator, thus continuing to focus on the prospective student experience and how to make the most of campus visits. In addition to recruiting and reviewing applicants from a geographically diverse territory that included parts of New England, the Midwest, and the Southwest, I served as a regional interview coordinator, varsity athletic liaison, and club sports coach.
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Update: Read the latest tips for the 2017-18 Common App. I am so excited for the new Common Application (CA4)! I’ve been following all of the updates and attended the First Look webinar, and am looking forward to the August 1 rollout. Here are some of my favorite changes:
  • Bravo to the folks at Common App for creating a streamlined, user-friendly website. Complicated navigation and outdated graphics have been replaced by a much more intuitive platform.
  • “Smart Questions” ensure that students only fill out information that is relevant to their specific applications and will not allow them to skip important questions. As students input personal data, the prompts they see next will depend on their answers to previous questions.
  • Active formatting for text input allows students to maintain the proper formatting of their personal statements. While the old Common App converted all formatting to basic text when pasted from Word into the online portal, CA4 keeps students’ tabs, italics, and spacing. Students can no longer upload a .doc or .pdf, but better text input renders that less important.
  • Word limits are a HUGE improvement. The maximum word limit will help students focus application essays on concise takeaways instead of broad or all-encompassing narratives, narrowing the scope to really connect with the reader.
  • In the old version of the Common App, students could submit text that was too long, never knowing that the excess words would not be displayed to the reader. CA4 proactively alerts students when they go over the limit: a warning flashes, and the application cannot be submitted.
  • Since there is no space for uploads on CA4, students cannot submit unsolicited pieces such as résumés, research abstracts, or short stories. Students might protest that this is important information to include in applications. In reality, if these actually are relevant to a particular college’s decision-making process, they will ask for them in the writing supplement! Remember that more is not better; individual colleges ask for what they need to make decisions that fit their values.
I know some folks have lamented the removal of “topic of your choice” as one of the essay prompts, but so far I haven’t encountered any challenges with that: the students who come to me with an essay idea already in their heads have had no trouble fitting that story into one of the CA4 prompts. We’ll be talking more about the new CA4 prompts in future blogs, so keep your eyes open for those posts.



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