The Common App has undergone significant changes in content and design, effective with the Class of 2014.  Scott Anderson, Director of Outreach of the Common Application, provided a fascinating webinar of the new Common Application, called version CA4.  There are now over 520 colleges that accept the Common App!

New Design and Content

The main content change is that the new Personal Essay has five new prompts, and the “Essay of your choice” option is no longer available.  The Short-Answer Activity Essay is no longer on the Common Application, but is an option that colleges may select for their Supplements.

The design changes include more sophisticated dynamic software as well as a cleaner, more navigable visual presentation. The changes are intended to make the application easier and more intuitive to use; and to help students keep track of the status of their application, i.e. what is completed and not completed. The new approach seeks an effective balance between having a “Common” application, and also providing the opportunity for colleges to customize the application.

The questions on the Common App are now smart and dynamic!  Depending on a student’s response to a particular question, appropriate questions follow.  Colleges will use data from the applications to drive the prompts, even on the Writing Supplement. For example, if a student indicates an academic interest in an Engineering major, the student may be prompted to write an essay about Engineering on the College’s Supplement.

There is a new feature called Dashboard, which shows the status of each College application, and students can easily see a PDF of the application. Also, there is a greatly expanded help center — both on the application screens and through a web link.  Help Center is on the Home Page, and is now the home of all support services.

Alternate versions are still possible, but much easier to create! When a student submits the first application, that version is “locked.” With CA4, the student can now return to the app and edit information for future submissions.  If information is changed, the previous information is “hidden,” but not “erased.” Students will have the opportunity to submit three essay edits, so that they can make corrections (but not submit an entirely different essay).

Common Application Form

The Common Application includes questions asked by all college members. Screens will now only show one topic at a time, with appropriate Help Center questions on the right. Sections include:

  • Profile. Basic biographical information.
  • Family. Dynamic questions. E.g., if parents are divorced, additional questions appear re step-parents.
  • Education. As student begins to type name of high school, choices appear. Once student selects high school, accurate CEEB and address info populates the fields.
  • Testing. Students choose whether to report standardized tests; if so, which to report. Drop-down menu lists all options.
  • Activities. Largely unchanged section, still includes up to 10 activities. Activity type is a drop-down list, same as previously. A new feature is that if a student selects Athletics, can now enter the particular sport. Will still have up and down arrows to change the sequence of the activities. Highest position held has a maximum of 50 characters. Details and accomplishments has been expanded to 150 characters.
  • Writing: The Personal Essay now has 5 new prompts, not 6; is a copy-and-paste document, not uploadable, and has a word count of 250-650 words, which will be strictly enforced.

My Colleges Section (former Supplements)

The section has been redesigned to be more intuitive re adding colleges.

  • Each College will now select questions from a databank of common questions, and these questions will appear consistently from college to college, e.g. Contacts, Family, How did you first learn about us, who else in your family has attended the college?
  • Writing Supplement – Each College will decide which short answer and essay questions to ask; whether to invite a Resume; and whether to include an Additional Information section.
  • Additional Information – maximum of 650 words

For further information, contact