Common App drops ‘topic of your choice’ essay, adds five prompts
Penn has changed its supplement to focus on academics in response to the new essay prompts
August 27, 2013, 9:45 pm·
As Apple releases its iOS 7 and Microsoft releases Windows 8.1, the Common Application is releasing its newest version: CA4.
The new platform, which was released at the beginning of August features a brand new interface, as well as some significant changes to its content.
The biggest change to the content of the Common Application is a new set of essay questions that does not include a “topic of your choice” option. There is now also a minimum word count of 250 words.
Initially, there were mixed reactions to the elimination of the free response option.
“The lack of a free response option puts more pressure on people to find something to write about one of the prompts, causing some to have weaker essays,” Ian Katz, a high school junior at the Noble and Greenough School outside Boston, said.
“I guess the proof will be in the pudding once we get the applications themselves, but I would say overall the majority of people feel like the prompts are helpful to students as a guide,” said Dean of Admissions Eric Furda.
Furda is currently a member of the Common Application’s Board of Directors, and he will become president next summer.
In response to the changes in the essay questions, Penn’s supplemental application now focuses largely on academics.
“We did have a mindful consideration of wanting academics covered in our prompt,” Furda said because “nothing was really directed toward academics” in the Common App prompts.
Another change is the elimination of the section asking applicants to elaborate on one of their extracurricular activities.
“Personally, I think there is a slight loss there,” Furda said. “Any prompt is an opportunity for students to express themselves, whether they are really utilizing that prompt in a way that it is expressing themselves is a different story, but it is an opportunity.”
Furda recommends that students use the Additional Information section of the Common App to elaborate on any activities that applicants feel deserve more of an explanation.
This latest version of the Common App, known as CA4, took two years and approximately $8 million to redevelop. The last update was in 2007.
The CA4 user interface also includes many new features, including on-screen support and progress checks, as well as a new process for submitting art supplements in conjunction with Slideroom.com.
Wharton sophomore Natalie Sica said, “I think it’s great that the Common App has worked to improve its interface, as most companies that have that kind of monopoly don’t put as much focus on research and development.”
In addition to the changes to the Common Application’s interface and content, the company is also undergoing some organizational changes. According to Furda, in summer 2014, the Common Application and Hobsons, the company that developed the Common Application interface, will merge into one single “organizational and physical entity.”