The new Common Application, CA4, has been released. You have likely heard some of the announcements about changes, but with application season upon us, it is critical to make sure you are prepared.
Earlier this year the Common Application gave people a sneak peek at CA4’s new look. The new design is cleaner and more user-friendly, allowing students to easily find and apply to member schools. This includes new sections, a help center sidebar, and a new dashboard for tracking.
No “topic of choice”
Arguably one of the biggest changes on this year’s Common Application is the elimination of the “topic of choice” essay prompt. The Common Application announced earlier this year that they would not be including the “free choice” topics in the prompts to much criticism. However, many feel the new prompts are broad enough to allow students to be creative and write essays on topics about which they feel most passionate.
That being said, here are the new prompts for CA4:
- “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.”
New word limit
This year Common App will be enforcing a strict 650-word limit on the main application essay, an increase from the previous 500-word limit. They decided to increase the world limit after feedback from counselors. Essay instructions make it clear that 650 words is the hard stop, and that a response shorter than 250 words will not be accepted.
No activity essay
The short answer “activity” essay will also be absent from the main application. However, schools will have the option to include the prompt or some variation of it in their individual writing supplements, so it is best to prepare a response.
New member schools
There are 39 new member schools for the 2013-14 Common Application. Notable additions include Purdue University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and four UK universities.
Even quirkier supplements
Member schools are getting even more creative with their supplements this year. Here are some of the interesting, cool, and quirky topics we have seen:
- What do you hope to find over the rainbow? (University of North Carolina)
- To tweet or not to tweet? (University of Virginia)
- What does #YOLO mean to you? (Tufts University)
- Pomona’s Critical Inquiry course is required of all first-year students, and is designed to be highly interdisciplinary and engaging. Recent class titles include: “Molecules of the Mind,” “The Economics of Sin,” and “Punk: Poetics, Politics and Provocation.” Imagine you were hired to design and teach a Critical Inquiry course. Describe the title of the class, its content, and why you chose it. (Pomona College)
- Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it. (University of Chicago)
The college application process can be daunting and overwhelming, but that need not be the case. The key is to stay informed, know what to expect, and know when to seek guidance.