Countdown to College: Update on the Common Application

It’s just the beginning of August, yet for many rising high school seniors Aug. 1, the date the Common Application officially opened and released its 2015-2016 application, means it’s the official end of summer.

This year’s Common Application ( has a variety of changes and hopefully a healthy dose of improvements. The website has a much-needed updated look.

The homepage clearly guides students to their initial destination to identify the colleges that are on their list. What can be confusing for many students and families is that while the Common Application has opened and you can enter your education information as well as your activities, many of the colleges have yet to release their own Supplement sections. Almost all colleges will release their applications before Labor Day.

Common App has responded to feedback from past classes by including a print-preview option so families don’t need to panic before clicking on “SUBMIT.”

The biggest issue I have with the new format is that there is no opportunity to explore the site. Now, if a student or parent is interested in finding out the organization’s history, their board of directors, etc., they are required to register, which means creating a user name and password.

So if you’re not sure if the colleges on your list are members of Common App, you are forced to go through the registration process just to find out. You can find some useful information on the Common App blogsite – – including a downloaded grid that provides you with the following information: deadlines, admissions programs (early action 1 and 2, early decision, restricted early action, regular decision or rolling), application fees, whether a personal essay is required, if they have a writing supplement, specific test requirements (SAT, ACT – with or without writing, SAT subject tests, number of teacher recommendations required, other evaluations required.

In past years Common App has been accused of having “stealth” essays – essays that were difficult to find or had a required response before students could access them. The “new and improved” application has an “Additional Details” option where students can easily identify any program-specific, major-specific essay prompts or requirements.

Another great improvement for students this year is the option of unlimited essay edits. In the past, if a student recognized an error or wanted to make edits on his or her personal statement once it was submitted, it was often a very arduous process. This year, for the first time, students will be able to tailor their personal statement for each college, if they choose. For some students wishing to demonstrate more interest in the college, this could be a very helpful strategy.

Also for the first time, Common App member colleges are allowed to choose if they want students to write the personal statement. Roughly 20 percent of the nearly 600 member colleges have chosen to make the essay optional.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;