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by Elyse Krantz, former admissions officer at Barnard College

High school seniors now have access to the current year’s Common Application, an online form that serves as a gateway to more than 900 colleges across the country and around the world. The colleges that accept the Common Application (or Common App as it’s more colloquially known) represent a broad array of higher education institutions, and for many students applying to college, the Common App is the only application platform they will need. As the Common App undergoes an annual “refresh” each summer, it’s helpful to know what new features students might encounter and how they might impact the application experience. Below are the seven key areas to look for on the 2021-22 Common Application.

Sex & Gender

In an effort to acknowledge the unique identities of high school students, the Common App has updated its questions about applicants’ sex and gender. On the Personal Information tab of the Profile page, students now have the option to choose among three gender options (female, male, or nonbinary) or write in their own. They can also select a pronoun set (such as he/him, she/her, or they/them) and identify their preferred first name in the event this doesn’t match their legal name noted elsewhere on the application. Each of these questions are optional, and students are not penalized for leaving them blank. On the Demographics tab of the Profile page, students are required to select their legal sex, and the options are either male or female. To learn more about the differences between sex and gender, we refer you to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Common App Gender Question

Citizenship & Religious Affiliation

To reduce educational barriers for undocumented and DACA students, the Common App has adjusted some of their questions on the newly renamed Geography & Nationality section of the application. Students can choose to report their birth country and number of years they have lived in the United States, but they will no longer be asked how long they have lived outside of the U.S. Additionally, students will be required to select their citizenship status, although the new options include revised language specific to DACA students and citizens of countries other than the U.S. If students have lived in another country for an extended period of time and would like to share this information with colleges, they can consider doing so in the Additional Information section of the application (located on the Writing page).

Common App Geography Question

For students who have already begun filling out school-specific supplements (on the My Colleges section) of the Common App, they may have noticed a question or two about reporting their religious affiliation. This optional question used to appear on the main portion of the Common App, but it has since been removed, meaning that colleges—if they desire to do so—can ask this optional question on their own supplemental forms.

Family

On the Family page of the application, students will no longer be able to indicate their parents’ birth country or their current job/title if currently employed. Additionally, the parent occupation and parent employment questions are now optional, meaning that students should not feel pressured to reveal potentially sensitive information about their parents’ work status. Interestingly, while students can still list the names of colleges (if any) their parents have attended, they do not have the option to do the same for any siblings mentioned on the Family page of the application. If an applicant’s older sibling attended (or is currently attending) a college, this information will still likely be captured on that school’s supplement within the Common Application.

Common App Parent Occupation Question

School Discipline

Through its research over the past year, the Common App found that students who experience and are required to report an instance of school discipline (such as suspension or expulsion) on their applications are less likely than other students to submit their applications. To reduce future educational barriers, the Common App no longer asks students within the main part of the application to report their school disciplinary history. Similarly, this question has been removed from the school counselor form that is a required component of a completed Common Application. Students may still encounter questions about disciplinary infractions on college-specific supplements, however, many colleges are electing to erase this question from their applications altogether. Visit our blog for tips on how to best answer the school discipline question.

New Essay Prompt

As many high school seniors experienced a range of hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic beginning in the spring of their sophomore year, the Common App revised one of their essay questions to specifically provide a space for students to show gratitude and infuse a little joy into their applications. (Note: students who were negatively impacted by Covid or any other natural disaster can provide details on the Additional Information section of the Common App.) The new essay question, which replaced the prompt about solving a problem, is one of seven options provided to students on the Personal Essay tab of the Writing page. The prompt reads: Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? Visit our blog to read our insights into the Common App’s new essay question. Will the “gratitude prompt” prove to be a popular option for the graduating class of 2022? Only time will tell!

Common App Essay Question

Here at College Coach, we love all things Common App! Students or families with more questions about their college applications are encouraged to listen to our podcast, Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, for more about the Common App, applying to college, and paying for college. Best of luck to all high school seniors as they begin to complete their college applications!

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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. 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. Visit our website to learn more about Elyse Krantz.