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2021-22 Common Application Guide

The Common Application is officially open for the 2021-22 college application season, and there are several changes that high school seniors should be aware of as they embark on their college admissions journey this fall.

The Common Application is the most widely used application for college admissions in the US. For the 2020-21 application season, there were approximately 989,063 students who submitted at least one application, an increase of 1 percent over the last year. While there are other alternative applications like the Coalition App, students are most likely to use the Common App when applying.

At IvyWise, our goal is to make the college application process as stress-free and transparent as possible. This means keeping families abreast of the latest college admissions news and trends and breaking down what students need to know about the Common App each year. Here’s what students need to know about the 2021-22 Common App.

2021-22 Common App Essay Prompts

For nearly five years, the personal statement prompts for the Common Application have stayed the same. That changed earlier this year when the Common Application announced the introduction of a new essay prompt:

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

This replaces the previous 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.”

Here are the Common App essay prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Common App Adds New Questions About Gender

The Common Application recently announced a series of changes, which are being enacted to make the application more inclusive for transgender applicants. The application will now include optional questions in which a student can share their preferred first name and their preferred pronouns. The wording of a question will also change “sex” to “legal sex” to reduce student confusion. These changes are all designed to avoid making certain applicants feel excluded and build on the creation of a text box where students can voluntarily explain their gender, which was included in the 2016 Common App.

Changes to Citizen Questions

After working with a group of Common App members and policy representatives, the Common Application has made a few changes to some of their background questions. This includes replacing the Citizenship response “Other (non-US)” with separate options for international students and undocumented/DACA students, removing or making Geography questions optional, removing parent and sibling questions, and making questions related to parent occupation and education optional. These changes will apply to both first-year applicants as well as transfer students.

New Common App Member Colleges

The Common Application is used by over 900 colleges and universities in the US and abroad. This year, the Common App added 30 new member colleges and universities to its robust list. Additions include Pratt Institute, Indiana Tech, and Colorado School of Mines, among others.

Tips for the Common App

When completing your Common Application, it’s important to take your time and be thoughtful about every piece of information you’re providing to colleges. This application is, after all, your means to present yourself to your top-choice schools so you want to maximize every section. Here are a few things to keep in mind while working on your Common App this fall:

  • Start ASAP! Ideally, most students will have started to fill out the Common App and worked on their personal statements in advance of the Common App launch on Aug. 1. However, that’s not the case for everyone. If you haven’t already, create your Common App account and start to fill out each section in order to get the tedious personal information out of the way. You’ll be thankful to have the bulk of this work out of the way once the school year starts this fall.
  • Be thoughtful about your personal statement. This is your chance to tell universities something new about you that can’t be found anywhere else in the application, so take your time brainstorming, drafting, and refining your personal statement. The prompts are broad, so take your time identifying the right prompt for you and ensure that your personal statement properly addresses it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your college counselor for help identifying a topic and refining your essay.
  • Strategically fill out the Activities section. Extracurricular activities are about quality – not quantity. When filling out the Activities section of your Common App, list your activities in order of importance to you, putting your most impactful and meaningful activities at the top of the list. If there are any activities on your list that you only participated in once, or that you did for a year or two and stopped, leave them off. Be as detailed as possible when describing your involvement in these activities. Mention any leadership positions or initiatives and how you have made an impact.

At IvyWise, we know that applying to college is an exciting (but sometimes stressful!) journey for high school seniors. We’re here to help with any questions or concerns that families may encounter along the way. We can help students with all aspects of the college admissions process, from creating a balanced college list all the way to ensuring that their Common App is ready for submission. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for high school seniors.

Check out our 2021-22 College Prep and Admissions Guide for more tips and insights into how students can prepare for the admissions process this fall.

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