College Counseling Corner: What is the Common Application?

By Sarah Soule
I graduated from high school in 1977, which was just one year after the Common Application was “born.” At that time only 15 colleges were members of the organization and now, 38 years later, there are 517 colleges that participate in the singular, standardized application for member institutions. The Common Application is used by a wide variety public and private institutions, and last year over 2.5 million applications were submitted to participating colleges and universities. Locally, Champlain, UVM, and St. Michael’s are members of the Common Application.
To be considered for membership with the Common Application, a college or university must use an all-inclusive admission process when evaluating prospective applicants. This means that they must require at least one recommendation form and a written essay.  Many colleges and universities use only test scores and grades to evaluate students in the admission process, therefore they are not able to become members of the Common Application.
The Common Application for the 2015-16 academic year goes “live” on Aug. 1, 2014.  Students who use the Common Application will be able to create a personalized account by going to the website:  www.commonapp.org. Once formed, a student will have access to the application and will begin entering pertinent demographic information, activities, honors, volunteer and community service projects, and athletic information all in one place.
The Common App includes essays that are universally agreed upon by the member colleges.  The essay questions have not changed from last year’s application and are listed here:
• 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.
Some of the member colleges and universities have supplemental essays and/or require additional information as part of the Common Application.  This is done at their discretion and is noted on their individual pages within the Common Application.
Once a student enters their “general” information in to the Common Application it is complete and does not have to be duplicated to each of the member institutions to which she or he is applying.  This saves invaluable time for students. When I was a high school senior and I applied to multiple colleges, I had to fill out the same information over and over!
Another amazing change in the college process since my senior year is Naviance. Students enrolled at Vermont Commons School, CVU, and Rice have the benefit of using this invaluable tool, which provides an abundance of information about the path to higher education, including a link to the Common Application. Students and parents are encouraged to work closely with their college counselor who can offer keen insights to both of these vital resources.
Soon seniors will be finalizing their list of where they will be applying to college. I did the same thing in the fall of 1976. I dutifully filled out six applications, but used a typewriter and when I made a mistake, I corrected it with white out. Now students have the good fortune to apply to college online, without filling out paper applications as their parents and I did back in the day! Applying to college is a far simpler task with the likes of the Common Application, but students are encouraged to fill out the forms sooner than later and not to procrastinate. Good luck!
Sarah Soule is the Director of College Counseling at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington. She has been quoted in the Princeton Review’s nationally published book, The Portable Guidance Counselor.  The fall of 2014 marks the onset of her 33rd year working the field of college and independent school admissions. She works individually with students advising them on the college admission process.