Common Application is back with new features

Aug. 1 was the big reveal … the 2014-2015 Common Application, used by more than 500 colleges, went live, and an anticipated 50,000 eager students began their college applications within the first few days of the release.

The Common Application, known as Common App, suffered horrific public relations damage last year as technical problems affected applicants and recommenders, as well as the colleges receiving the applications. There have been changes in the leadership and promises of a more forthcoming and stronger customer service-focused culture at Common App. This is all to say that the Aug. 1 release is being very closely watched and critiqued.

Paul Mott, the Common Application’s interim chief executive officer, a former college counselor who has also worked in admissions, was confident that the technological changes made in the last year will be able to accommodate the estimated 800,000 students who will complete 3.5 million applications this year.

Many of the biggest changes will be in the customer service area, including:

• A comprehensive FAQ page and Help Center.

• An “Ask a Question” tab that allows students and parents to contact a Common App support team member who, according to the website, will be “back in touch promptly.”

• Live support for recommenders available daily, beginning in early September.

Essay prompts

The Common App essay prompts are the same this year as last year, but many of Common Application subscriber colleges have additional “Supplement” essays. Students need to be certain to check which of the Supplements are required for everyone, which ones are required for students interested in a specific program or major offered by that school and which ones are optional. Last year, New York University had 26 questions, but only one was required of all applicants.

As an example, Stanford has one optional essay where students are invited to elaborate on one of their extracurricular activities or work experiences (length: 150 words) and four questions that are required of all applicants:

• Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. Length: 100-250 words.

• Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – know you better. Length:100-250 words.

• What matters to you, and why? Length: 100-250 words

• Briefly respond to the following seven inquiries so we can get to know you better. Do not feel compelled to use complete sentences. (50 word maximum for A-F and 10 words maximum for G)

A) Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists; B) What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy? C) What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? D) How did you spend your last two summers? E) What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? F) What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? G) What five words best describe you?

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.;