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What to Know About the 2023-24 Common Application

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Elyse Krantz

Written by Elyse Krantzon June 22nd, 2023

I became interested in the college admissions process after serving as a student tour guide in the admissions office of my alma mater. After graduating, I accepted an admissions counseling position at Bennington College in Vermont where I evaluated applications and reviewed art portfolios from students across the country. Three years later, after pursuing my master's degree in New York City, I joined the admissions staff at Barnard College where I served as a senior admissions officer. At Barnard, I directed Long Island and Boston recruitment in addition to managing the College's alumnae interview program, coordinating admissions statistics, and editing various college publications. Having also served as an alumni interviewer for Dartmouth College and visited over 75 colleges, I feel especially well-equipped to help students prepare for admission interviews and campus tours.
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by Elyse Krantz, former admissions officer at Barnard College If you’re a rising high school senior, you’ve probably heard about the Common Application. A “one-stop-shop” for applying to college, the Common App was designed to streamline the college application process. And it has! Over 1,030+ colleges now accept the Common App, and they all utilize the same digital platform to collect the information they need to make an admissions decision. While students generally consider the Common App to be highly intuitive, the designers of the Common App are continually looking to improve the user experience while promoting greater access, equity, and integrity for all its users. Although the final, updated version of the 2023-24 application won’t be published until August 1, we’ve been granted a sneak peek! Below are the top eight changes to the 2023-24 Common Application. 1. More Colleges Will Accept the Common App Since the 2022-23 application cycle, 29 additional colleges have announced they will accept the Common App for the upcoming year. We expect more colleges to join this growing cohort over the next several weeks. Look for a full list of new members on the Common App blog on or around August 1. 2. New Option for Legal Sex On the Demographics tab of the Common App, students are required to list their legal sex. Up until last year, the only two options were Female and Male. Beginning with the 2023-24 Common App, students will now be able to select a third option: X or another legal sex. Note this question is separate from the question about gender, which is optional. 3. Ability to Select a Different First Name During the account creation process (which takes mere minutes; we highly recommend all rising seniors complete it now!), students are required to indicate their legal/given first name. For students in the LGBTQ+ community who may be transitioning, the Common App now allows students to indicate their preferred first name (if they are no longer using their legal/given name). 4. Clearer Language on the Testing Page It is entirely optional for students to self-report their SAT or ACT scores on the Testing page of the Common App. However, for students who have chosen to include the results of these standardized tests, they were also asked, “Have you taken the SAT essay or the ACT plus writing test?” This put some applicants in a difficult situation. If they didn’t want to report the results of their writing test, they were essentially forced to do so if they honestly answered the question above in the affirmative. The Common App has replaced that language with the friendlier, “Would you like to report an SAT essay score or ACT plus writing score?” 5. Suppressed Information is Now Identified Colleges have the ability to hide certain questions and answers when they download the PDFs of students’ applications. For example, a student may choose to include their SAT/ACT scores, Social Security number, and/or criminal history, yet a college can opt to exclude that personal information if they don’t want to use it as part of their decision-making process. In the past, students often became flummoxed when entire sections of their application “disappeared” from the PDF previews of their applications. Now, if a college elects to suppress any information contained within the Common App, a clarifying explanation will accompany the PDF preview, and students can breathe a sigh of relief!  6. Race and Ethnicity Can Now be Suppressed by Colleges At the time of this writing, the Supreme Court has not yet issued a verdict on the legality of colleges using affirmative action as part of a holistic admissions process. In the event that race and ethnicity cannot be considered when evaluating applicants, the Common App will now permit colleges to suppress student responses to the optional question about race and ethnicity. As mentioned in the paragraph above, a student will be notified of any hidden questions when they view the PDF of their application. 7. More Transparent Letter of Recommendation Instructions There are three main types of recommendation letters students will encounter on the Common Application: counselor letters, teacher letters, and “other” letters. These “other” letters, sometimes called supplemental letters of recommendation, may come from an arts teacher, employer, member of the clergy, or even a peer. For some colleges, these letters are a required component of the application. For others, they may be optional or simply not accepted at all. In the past, if a particular college (for example, Arizona State) did not accept teacher or supplemental letters of recommendation, students would navigate to the Recommender page of the Common App and see no mention of teacher or “other” letters. Why couldn’t they find the place to request letters of recommendation? It was confusing! Now, colleges that do not accept certain letters of recommendation will be clearly labeled with the following message: “This college does not accept X recommendations. You will not be able to assign X recommenders to this college. 8. Continuing to Protect Application Integrity This highlight is technically not a change to the 2023-24 application, but we’d like to draw attention to it regardless. With the rise in popularity of ChatGPT, and college concerns that students may turn to AI for assistance when writing their college applications, the Common App reminds us of a very important disclaimer found on the last page of the submission process. Before submitting their applications, students must affirm that all of the materials contained within the Common App—including essays—are the student’s own work. While there’s no guarantee students will read the fine print, it’s comforting to at least know it’s there.

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