2019-2020 Common Application

Don’t expect to get much work done on your Common Application on the last four days of July. Between July 28 and 31, the Common App website will be unavailable to students as it undergoes its annual makeover. The big reveal is slated for August 1 – although commonapp.org will likely be up and running in the wee hours of July 31. In previous years, Common App updates have included new essay prompts, the addition of a Courses & Grades section, and clarifying language around applicants’ sex and gender. While no major revelations are expected in the revamped 2019-20 Common App, we do anticipate the following six changes.

1. Check out that new logo and color scheme!

According to an announcement in June, the Common App – a non-profit company that serves more than 800 colleges around the world – will be restyled this summer in an effort to make the entire application experience more “supportive, simple, and joyful.” What does that mean for you? Why a beautiful new logo, of course! Students should expect to see lots of small aesthetic changes on the website that are designed to make the Common App more fresh and inviting to today’s Gen-Z applicants. And nothing says “applying to college is as fun and relaxing as a day at the beach” than the snazzy new logo below.

the Common Application logo   the Common App logo

2. New “caring” question may be included on some college supplements
The Common App has collaborated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and their Making Caring Common project. According to Harvard’s Turning the Tide Report (Part 1 and Part 2), young people should have access to meaningful community engagement and service opportunities that enable them to experience diversity and develop “a sense of responsibility for the future.” At the same time, Making Caring Common wants high school students to feel less stress and pressure in the college admissions process. In particular, they don’t recommend that students compile academic achievements simply for the sake of presenting “stronger” applications. Rather, they encourage students to seek opportunities that would enrich their own well-beings and cultivate feelings of empathy, gratitude, and self-awareness.

To provide a space for students to share examples of ways in which they’ve “made caring common,” Common App colleges will now have the option of asking students the following question:

Who in your life is depending on you? What are they depending on you for?

We don’t know yet what the recommended word count for this essay question is, nor do we know if it will be an optional or required question for the colleges that choose to ask it. But as soon as we know more, we’ll be sure to share it with you in a new blog post!

3. More inclusive language on the Activities page encourages broader responses
The Activities page of the Common App, which doubles as a résumé, allows students to list up to 10 different activities or extra-curricular interests they’ve been involved with during high school. We’ve already published a helpful blog with tips for making the most of the Common App Activities page, but it’s our final “do” tip – Do think outside the box for which activities to list – we’d like to focus on today. Students have long been allowed to list hobbies or interests that take place outside of the classroom on their Common Apps. For example, students who babysit younger siblings or work part-time jobs can use title headers such as Family Responsibilities and Work (Paid) to capture these particular obligations. But the Common App wants to ensure that all students who are active in meaningful out-of-classroom experiences are encouraged to list these types of experiences on their applications. That’s why students will find new language on the 2019-20 Common App that pointedly emphasizes community engagement and family responsibilities “count” on the application.

Common App Activities

4. Criminal history question is moving from the main application to college-specific supplements
On previous versions of the Common App, students were required to respond to two questions on the Writing page related to their disciplinary history: one regarding school discipline that resulted in suspension or expulsion, and one regarding criminal history. The criminal history question will be removed from the main part of this year’s Common App and be relocated (for those colleges who still wish to ask it) to their school-specific supplements. This question will be customizable, so colleges can ask this question in different ways. Additionally, the criminal history question will be completely removed from the School Report form that is completed by high school or college counselors. The school disciplinary question, however is not changing, and will still be asked on the both the main Common App and the School Report.

5. Submitting the application is more straightforward (and now includes confetti)
There are multiple steps students must take before their applications are fully submitted. In addition to completing all required questions on both the Common App itself and the appropriate college-specific supplements, students must also sign their application (digitally, of course), pay the application fee (or use a fee waiver), and hit “submit.” To help students identify incomplete portions of their application, the Common App will now provide easy-to-use links that will bring students directly to the part of their applications that are incomplete once they click the “Review & Submit” button. And if a student pays the application fee but forgets to actually hit “submit,” there will now be an alert to notify them. How will students know they’ve successfully submitted their application? A super fun confetti screen will be there to help them celebrate!

Common Application submission

6. Enhanced user experience tools and workflow adjustments make the Common App more accessible for all
Multiple smaller changes have been made to the 2019-20 Common App to meet the needs of users with disabilities and provide a more user-friendly experience for those completing the application on their tablets or smart phones. Some of the minor adjustments experienced Common App users might notice this year include a smarter college search tool (that now includes a map feature!); “type-ahead” technology that pre-populates verified matches for student home addresses and high school names; and a reconfigured FERPA and Recommenders section of the application (that requires students complete the FERPA release prior to inviting any recommenders to submit letters of recommendations). All of the main components of the Common App you know and love will still “live” in the same places they have in years past; but this year, students will get to experience them in a more modern and streamlined fashion.

Be on the lookout for more Common App blog posts over the next few months. We will be sure to follow up on the new “caring” question as well as update our entire AppView database so students can find all of the supplemental essay questions in one place. In the meantime, visit our blog if you’re looking for a refresher on how to rollover your Common App account after August 1.

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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.