Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Road to College

Changes to Common App affect local students

After eight years, the Common Application (known as the Common App) that serves more than 500 colleges and universities worldwide is undergoing major changes effective Aug. 1.

Historically, as many as 40 percent of local high school students attend a school that requires submission of the Common App, so it is a critical piece of the college admissions puzzle.

Following are the most noteworthy changes to the Common App.

New essay prompts

The essay prompts have been restructured to act as more of an interview of the student rather than a true writing sample. As such, they ask more about the student than an event.

The new essay prompts:

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.

Word count

The essay minimum is still 250 words, but the maximum has been increased to a hard limit of 650 words.

Extracurricular prompt

Each individual college has the option of adding the Extracurricular prompt to its supplement.

Future Plans section

The Future Plans section was eliminated and replaced with a customized section for each college named “Member Page” (participating Common App colleges are referred to as “Members”). The Member Page includes information on academic interests, family alumni, financial and merit aid, recommenders and residency.

Writing supplement

The new Writing supplement includes customized questions designed by each college, presented after the Common App and Member Page are submitted. Each college may decide which questions are included, how many characters/words are allowed and whether the student may upload documents or copy text.

Colleges’ options

Colleges have options as to which information a student may submit. Each Member college will be able to decide whether to accept written recommendations from more than one teacher, coach, supervisor or other person; written resumes; research papers; writing samples; or other extra materials. It is important for students to note that if the option isn’t there, it means that the college doesn’t want the information and submitting it could hurt rather than help their chances.

Arts supplement

An Arts supplement will now be submitted via a slideroom.com account or via the college’s own website.

Athletic supplement

It is now at the discretion of each admissions office to ask about sports or forward the request/information to the athletic coach. Students should review this portion carefully and be prepared to submit information via the college’s website.


One of the most important changes is the streamlined setup process for each college. According to the Common App organization, this should allow every Member college to meet the Aug. 1 deadline for making supplements available. Last year only 30 percent of the Member colleges made their supplements available Aug. 1. This should allow busy seniors to begin work on their supplements before fall sports, marching band and school starts.

Finally, the Common App has added 39 new schools, bringing the total number to 527. One trend to note: Of the 39 schools added, 15 were public institutions. This indicates a growing willingness by public universities outside of California to adhere to the Common App rules of performing a holistic review of the student, not just measuring grades and test scores. This can only be good news for students going forward.

Hollis Bischoff earned a graduate certificate in College and Career Counseling from UCLA and is a college admissions adviser at Strategies 4 Admission LLC. For more information, call 209-0272 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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