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The new and improved Common Application

Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

The “big reveal” is just days away. On Aug. 1, the new and improved Common Application goes live. According to the Common Application (Common App) ( website, the changes will be “revolutionary” for applicants, counselors and teachers as well as the 527 member colleges.

This is a big deal in the world of college admissions. This new Common App is the fourth generation (CA4) and has undergone a two-year, $8 million overhaul. The last update was in 2007 and Common App has seen unprecedented growth of 20-25 percent every year. According to Aba Blankson, Director of Communications for Common Application, “During the 2013-2014 admissions cycle, 723,576 applicants used the Common Application to submit 3.05 million applications.”

What’s different?

In the new Common App, essay length will be more closely monitored, with both a minimum and a maximum word count (250/650). Also new in this version is the opportunity for students to return to their applications and make changes for future applications.

The Extracurricular Activity short answer question is no longer part of the general Common App, but individual colleges may choose to review a response to that question on their Supplements. Colleges have the option to accept more writing samples or resumes on their Writing Supplements.

The biggest change for applicants will be the new essay prompts, which are designed to provide students with a greater opportunity to be insightful and introspective about their life experiences. Students should review and evaluate all five topics carefully before jumping in and writing what they think college admissions professionals want to read.

For some students, perhaps the greatest disappointment is that the “Topic of Choice” prompt was eliminated. Applicants must respond to one of the five new prompts:

1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.
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