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Updates and Changes to the Common Application (2013)

Beginning this year (2013-2014), there will be significant changes to the “Common Application”. The Common Application acts as the basic unified application for nearly 500 colleges and universities in the US and Europe. Every year, more than 500,000 students use the Common Application to apply to an incredibly broad and diverse range of institutions. This year, the Board of Directors of the Common Application has removed one of long-standing pillars of the Application, namely, the free-response option for the Personal Statement.

Previously, the Common Application’s Personal Statement, or Essay, section always had a range of prompts, one of which would be “a topic of your choice”. Now, the Common Application will contain a series of prompts dealing with:

  • The student’s background and identity
  • Personal transformations
  • Intellectual challenges and solutions
  • In addition, whichever prompt the student selects will now have a limit of 650 words, rather than 500 as was the case before this year.

What do these changes mean? Effectively, the Common Application has limited the means by which students can express themselves, and differentiate their application from those of students with similar academic profiles. This limitation will likely have several effects, which largely reflect upon which institutions benefit from the changes.

  • Larger schools, with correspondingly larger application pools and admission rates, have no real issues with the changes, as they restrict the workload for their admissions offices, and offer a better example of “pure” writing skills.
  • Smaller schools, and more selective schools, will inevitably respond to this by increasing the number of essays on their supplements in order to regain the more nuanced view of the applicant which they will lose in these changes.

Essentially, applying to more selective schools is about to become just a bit more difficult, and applying to larger schools will require applicants to find new ways of distinguishing themselves from the pack.

If you have questions on the upcoming changes to the Common Application, and want to find out how they will affect you or your student, then give us a call at 800-501-7737.

Written by Zachary Bills, Director for College Admissions at Top Test Prep.  Call us for more information about college admissions:  1-800-501-7737 (PREP)