High school seniors applying to college next fall will face a redesigned Common Application — but some of the proposed changes have already been criticized by college admissions experts.
The updates, which were announced Oct. 5, aim to improve user experience and include a simplified online interface, a streamlined fee-waiver application system and the removal of the option to upload a résumé. Applicants will also encounter strict enforcement of the 500-word limit for the required personal essay and will no longer be able to choose the “topic of your choice” prompt. Previously, the 500-word limit was only suggested and students could choose an option to write on any subject as one of six essay prompts. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said in an email to the News that the changes will not significantly impact Yale’s admissions process, but the two changes to the personal essay requirement have generated mixed responses from college admissions experts.
“If it’s not broken, you don’t need to fix it,” said Jon Reider, a college guidance counselor at University High School in San Francisco. “The changes to the questions and the length are bound to create stress, and the application process is [already] rife with stress. Most of the people making these decisions have never been a college counselor for five minutes.”
Though Brenzel said he disagrees with the removal of the “topic of your choice” prompt, he said he supports the enforcement of the word limit.
Reider said he believes the required word limit will benefit only upper-middle class students who can afford private counselors to help them trim down their essays, while lower-income students will suffer without professional guidance. Though the intent of the word limit is to level the applicant playing field, its consequences will be “exactly the opposite,” he said.
But David Petersam, president of higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said he thinks the word limit is a “fantastic idea” because of its emphasis on brevity, adding that colleges want to admit students who are able to follow instructions and be concise. In addition, Petersam said the limit will make the application process more “standardized.”
Instead of the the “topic of your choice” essay prompt, the Common Application will offer four to five prompts that will likely change each year. Reider said that over 60 percent of applicants have typically chosen the open-ended option over the other five in the past.
The removal of the choice prompt will limit students’ ability to promote their individual talents, said Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College.
“Some students need the freedom to write about what they want because their stories might warrant it,” he said. “Also, when admissions officers only have four or five choices each year, they’re going to be bored out of their minds reading the same essays. No one wants to read another essay about somebody’s grandmother.”
Petersam said he understands why elimination of the choice prompt may put some students at a disadvantage, but he thinks universities will admit qualified students regardless of their essay topics.
Still, Reider said he hopes the negative feedback from college counselors will make Common Application officials change their minds about the prompt’s removal before the new system launches.
The redesigned Common Application — which will for the first time be an entirely online system, removing the paper application option for students — is scheduled to launch on Aug. 1, 2013.