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The Ultimate Guide to the 2015-16 Common Application

The 2015-16 Common Application is open for the high school class of 2016, and there are several changes from last year that can affect how students apply to college this fall.

So far, the Common Application has had a smooth launch with minimal problems. While some college supplements were not immediately available when the Common Application opened July 31, most college supplements were live and the Common Application itself was ready for student submissions.

At IvyWise, our goal is to help make the college admissions process as transparent and stress-free as possible. As students prepare to apply to college this fall, its important for them to understand the Common Application and what certain changes can mean for their college admissions strategy.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2015-16 Common Application.

New Homepage Look
The Common Application homepage has a new look, streamlining the login process for students, teachers, counselors, and member colleges. While the Common Application student accounts have the same design as last year, the site’s homepage is bound to be the first change that families notice.

New Member Colleges
This year, the Common Application added 69 new member schools, bringing the total number of member colleges to 617. New member colleges for the 2015-16 application cycle include Tulane University, North Carolina State University, Old Dominion University, and St. Johns University in New York, among others.

Slight Changes to Common Application Essay Prompts
This year, the Common Application revised the personal statement essay prompts for the 2015-16 application, changing the language in some questions and adding an entirely new prompt:

  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

While the “topic of choice” prompt is still absent, these questions are still broad enough to offer students flexibility in their essays. Click here to view the 2015-16 Common Application essay prompts and questions from some school-specific supplements.

Colleges Can Make Essay Optional
For the first time, colleges can make the Common Application personal statement essay optional. Previously, all students were required to submit an essay with their Common Application. Now, colleges can choose not to require the essay – allowing students to submit their application without one. If a college does not require the Common Application essay, students will still have the option to include an essay if they wish. After students add schools to their lists in their Common Application accounts, they can see whether those colleges require the essay by going to the writing section under the Common Application tab. There they will see a “required” and “not required” list that’s automatically generated based on their school choices.

Colleges Can Make Recommendations Optional
In addition to making the Common Application essay optional, colleges now have the option to omit letters of recommendation. Previously, colleges using the Common Application were required to ask for at least one recommendation letter from a counselor or teacher. Most member colleges require at least two – one from a college counselor and one from a teacher. So far, no major universities on the Common Application are eliminating recommendations.

Unlimited Essay Edits
Also this year for the first time, students will be allowed to make as many edits to their Common Application essay as they want after submission. Previously, students were only allowed three essay edits after the first submission, intended to allow students to make minor changes like correcting spelling and grammar errors. Now, students will be allowed to make unlimited changes to the essay, mirroring the unlimited changes students could already make to other parts of the application. This will allow students to make adjustments for each submission – possibly further tailoring the personal statement to a particular school if they see fit.

Print Preview At Any Time
This year, students will be able to preview completed portions of their Common Application at any time, screen by screen. Previously, students could only preview their Common Application once it was completely filled out as part of the submission process. Now, students can preview their application at any point, allowing them to see what their application will look like once submitted. This is a big technological improvement for the Common Application.

“Where Else Are You Applying” Optional Question
As we have mentioned before, the Common Application this year will give schools the option to ask applicants where else they are applying to college this fall. This has been a controversial announcement and is problematic, as a question like this can be used to judge a student’s likeliness to enroll if admitted – something colleges take seriously as a way to manage yield rates and enrollment models. So far, no major universities on the Common Application are asking this question.

Need some help with navigating the Common Application this fall? Contact us today for more information on our programs for high school seniors!

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