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Passion over Pitfalls: The Art of the College Essay

Madeline Diamond   |   June 16, 2014    2:23 PM ET

For a high school senior, the Common Application personal statement essay may seem like the most important 650 words he or she will ever write. Throughout high school, students are coached to write the perfect "personal essay" to show why they are qualified to extend their academic careers to colleges and universities. There is intense pressure to make sure that this essay accurately represents one's intelligence, insight, experiences, and qualifications -- all in a concise, well-articulated format. So, how then, is a student supposed to represent him or herself in fewer words than an average newspaper editorial?

With some of the most competitive schools in the country, such as UCLA, UC Berkeley, and NYU, all receiving over 40,000 applications each year, there is clear pressure for applicants to stand out, and the personal essay is often the time to do so. It is understandable for students to draw from unique, and often unfortunate, experiences to appeal to admissions staff. However, in the midst of trying to set themselves apart, many students can be found competing for the most tragic story for their essay, rather than for a holistic representation of themselves as students and human beings. A seemingly beautiful opportunity to express oneself often takes a negative turn when students try to justify their mistakes or a poor grade through the telling of personal tragedies.

This is not to say that students shouldn't write about challenging experiences. We are all entitled to feel proud of our accomplishments, as well as overcoming adversity. The open-ended nature and variety of prompts allow students to truly write about what ever they please. In fact, one of the Common App's essay prompts asks students to recall an experience of failure.

What truly matters is how applicants address writing about hardship. When I was writing my college essay, I thought about discussing the many moves my family made across the country through my childhood. It was certainly difficult moving to new a new place where I knew no one, but these experiences were also incredibly enlightening. I learned to appreciate diversity in many forms and I gained a unique perspective on life. I ended up writing about how these experiences and others combined with my passion for writing inspired me to begin writing a memoir-like book of essays. My essay was far from perfect, although through the college application process, I learned how to use my passion for writing to express my feelings about experiences of my life, both difficult and joyous.

Undoubtedly a better example of a college essay comes from Kwasi Enin, the Long Island teenager who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools this year and has since committed to Yale University. In his essay, excerpts of which can be found here, Enin shares his passion for the violin and how his love of music has influenced his life.

"The most important task of a leader is to create harmony between each member of the group, which reveals the group's maximum potential. With improvement and balance comes success and music taught me all of these virtues." Drawing from his own experience as a musician, Enin relates his musical passion to leadership and working as part of a team, showing how playing the violin has shaped his identity and values.

Writing about hardships, while it is easy to focus on the negatives, can actually be a positive healing experience. This type of writing allows students to realize their own resiliency and passions. Regardless of one's interests, whether it be writing, a sport, or music like Enin, passion will shine through in an essay. Through writing about both challenging and positive experiences, students should not sell themselves short and rather emphasize their passions as a result of these experiences, not despite them.

KIMBERLY HEFLING   |   May 9, 2014    2:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Creators of the Common Application for college admissions said Friday they have made changes that should prevent snags that had the high school class of 2014 tweeting horror stories.

The Common Application is accepted by more than 500 colleges and universities and allows students to apply to multiple schools at once, but it had a rough applications season after new technology was rolled out last year that created many headaches. About 750,000 students submitted 3.3 million applications last year.

Teachable Moments: Kwasi Enin's College Application Essay

Elizabeth Benedict   |   April 4, 2014    3:02 PM ET

It's wonderful -- and rare -- that the airwaves, Internet and twitter-sphere are abuzz with the story of a young person's academic success instead of, say, a celebrity's wardrobe malfunction: Kwasi Enin's Ivy League grand slam. How many kids get into all eight Ivies? It's a small sample pool, because few -- how many, we don't know -- apply to all eight.

The conventional wisdom is to apply to a few reaches, a few targets, and a few safeties. The CW is not to apply to eight reaches and to three or four of the others -- but the CW is not for everyone. Among families I worked with this past year, two students, both children of recent immigrants, took Kwasi's approach and applied to twenty or so schools each, most of them reaches. When I suggested a more targeted approach -- pick a few reaches you really want to go to -- the parents gave me identical answers: If my kid applies to all these top schools, she might get into one. According to news report, that was Kwasi's thinking too.

It's been fascinating -- and sometimes disturbing -- to see how Kwasi Enin's story has unfolded publicly. In our celebrity driven culture, he's smack in the middle of his first 15 minutes of fame. And in our culture of endless opinions and an infinite number of places in which to express them, we have collectively revealed quite a lot. The good, bad, and the ugly.

Kwasi's story took an unexpected turn two days ago when the New York Post got hold of one of the drafts of his Common Application essay -- labeled Draft#4. I suspect he did not provide it to the paper, and it seems to me a sleazy, invasive move, more typical of the NY Post than, say, New York Times.

Again, much has been said about the essay itself -- alongside the Kwasi phenomenon. Most commenters -- even Beyonce has weighted in -- are congratulatory. Some call him "brilliant." Many talk about their own kids -- that they got higher SATs and have just as many extra curricular activities, and they were turned down at all these schools. Some attribute the school sweep to race and some to Kwasi's child-of-immigrant status. And some news reports slant the story so that it looks as though it was the essay that "got him in" to all these schools. These are three recent reader comments from an article in the Wall Street Journal:

1. We don't want a land of white bread.

2. 50 kids from my high school with better SAT's scores and overall records
were rejected from all of the Ivy League schools. 7+AP exams with 4 or 5, sports, academics, etc.

3. In a fantasy world there is no racism, but this is the USA and there is in fact much latent and outright racism. Doubt that? Just read some of these posts. And if some white kid gets rejected at the expense of some kid of color, I say fine. Minorities have long suffered exactly the same treatment far longer and when whites get a taste of their own medicine they cry and whine that it's horrible.

The admissions process is not a transparent one. Admissions officers frequently offer advice to applicants about what the school is looking for, but a true behind-the-scenes look is unheard of -- though the Washington Post was recently given access to George Washington University's Admissions office in full swing in an article well worth reading.

Beyond what we can learn from the the Washington Post piece, it's not a secret that those who decide who gets into Ivy League schools are not just looking at grades and SATs. There are far too many students with perfect grades and perfect scores to choose from -- and many other considerations, including legacy students, athletic recruits, children of those who have donated large sums of money, students who do not need financial aid (international applicants among them), the need to balance geography and student interests (you don't want a school that's all economics majors and all violin players), and an increasing interest in making college classes look like more the world we live in. Brown University announced this year that 18 percent of the students it accepted are first generation college students.

There are simply not enough places at these few schools for all the students with perfect grades and perfect scores. Which brings me to Kwasi's essay, what it reveals about him, and what it reveals about what top schools seem to be looking for.

It is necessary to have good grades and high SATs for admission, and often a lot of AP courses, and extra curricular activities in abundance -- but in 2014, it is no longer sufficient for these schools. But you might be asking, what else is there that a high school student has to show? How about these? Intellectual curiosity. The ability -- the hunger -- to translate the lessons of one subject to other subjects. A craving for knowledge.

Intellectual curiosity -- a phrase I rarely hear from anyone these days -- is different from "academic achievement." I don't think it's a quality you can fake. And based on Kwasi Enin's essay, he has it in abundance.

The second paragraph of his draft essay says a great deal:

Music has become the spark of my intellectual curiosity. I directly developed my capacity to think creatively around problems due to the infinite possibilities in music. There are millions of combinations of key signatures, chords, melodies, and rhythms in the world of music that wait to become attached to a sheet of staff lies and spaces. As I began to explore a minute fraction of these combinations from the third grade onwards, my mind began to formulate roundabout methods to solve any mathematical problem, address any literature prompt, and discover any exit in an undesirable situation. In middle school, my mind also started to become adept in the language of music. Playing the works of different composes, such as Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch and Coriolan Overture by Ludwig Van Beethoven, expands my diverse musical vocabulary, my breadth of techniques and my ability to practice in order to succeed in solo performances.

The essay goes on to say a great deal more about Kwasi's world, his sense of community, and his zest for life, music, and friendship, but to me, this paragraph is the essence of what makes him stand out. I suspect that even if his SAT scores were somewhat lower and he had taken fewer AP courses, he might still have gained admission to some or all of these eight schools.

I fear that Kwasi Enin's example -- apply to all eight Ivies and hope for the best -- might become the new normal for many students. I fear that the real lessons he offers us, that the most competitive schools seem to be looking for students with wellsprings of intellectual curiosity and creativity, not just academic achievement, will be lost in the madness of fall applications.

And there is this lesson too, that also gets lost in Ivy Madness: There are many more fine -- even outstanding -- colleges and universities than the eight Ivies. Look widely, look smartly, and search for the schools where your passions and your achievements will be recognized and challenged.

Elizabeth Benedict's Don't Sweat the Essay helps students develop their application essays and college choices. She is a bestselling novelist, editor, former Ivy League writing professor, and writing coach.

College Admissions: All Over But the Waiting

Linda Flanagan   |   April 3, 2014    4:28 PM ET

The emotional phases of college admissions, not unlike Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief, come in a predictable pattern: excitement, depression/anxiety, anger, disillusionment, and relief. "Closure" occurs for most of us when the deposit check is in the mail, and all the flotsam from the ordeal has been tossed -- with any luck, by mid-April.

But for many families, the "process" didn't end when the decisions came out last week. In my town, and in hundreds of other similarly ambitious communities around the country, thousands of kids found themselves neither accepted nor rejected, but placed on a wait list.

Being put on the wait list is not unlike being told by your prom-date hopeful, "I think you're great, and if Sally tells me no, you're it!" To be wait listed is to be second string, the understudy, a B-list invite. The one they really want, with better qualifications, more merit, and just the right blend of academic achievements, personal charm, and selfless service to community -- well, if that person can't make it, we'll settle for you!

Why is this happening? "We have such big wait lists because the system is so unstable," Marilee Jones, former dean of admissions at MIT and now a private college consultant, told me. Thanks to the ease of the Common App, kids now apply, on average, to 12 colleges or universities, she said. And colleges welcome the high volume: the $75 application fee, when multiplied times thousands of applicants, brings real money to colleges, especially those without substantial endowments. More important, the number of applications is the denominator in most U.S. News & World Report measurements, and the higher the number the more selective a college appears.

But admissions officers operate in a vacuum: they don't know where else each student is applying. It has gotten very hard to know among all of these applicants who is the right match, and who among the admitted will actually enroll, making it tougher to predict yield -- the term of choice to describe the percentage of accepted kids who actually enroll in a college. In the perfect world of an admissions officer, the number of students who enroll will equal the number of available slots. "There's the hope that everyone will come to my party if they're invited," Jones said. Of course, not even Harvard has a 100 percent yield, so all colleges admit more kids than they have room for. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for instance, where the reported yield for 2012 was 20 percent, admissions officers would likely have admitted five times the number of students they could accommodate. But if more students decline than the admissions office has estimated, the admissions staff will have to pick someone off the wait list.

And who is put on the wait list? Admissions offices will wait list a kid as a courtesy to a legacy. Or they'll offer it to a promising student whose calculus grade, say, has suddenly dropped; being wait listed will give her a chance to bring it back up. Alternatively, perhaps the number one student at a high school the college wants to cultivate isn't quite qualified. Putting him on the wait list sends a message to the school that it should encourage other candidates to apply next year. In short, admissions officers think of wait listed students as admitted, pending space. Waitlisted students, on the other hand, consider it a soft rejection, or just plain torture.

The wait list is one more manifestation of the arms race inherent in college admissions. Colleges invite more applications than they can reasonably evaluate. At the most selective colleges, each officer evaluates 40-60 applications a day, Jones said. Many students suffer through years of preparation, send out a dozen or more apps to secure their futures, and end up feeling crushed. It doesn't help that some kids use the college process to massage their egos. Even after being admitted to their first choice school via non-binding early action, some kids don't withdraw their applications to their less-desired colleges. The joy that comes from receiving another fat "you're accepted" envelope outweighs the empathy one might have for the less-distinguished classmate who would be thrilled to be admitted to another's safety school. And parents, whether status obsessed or sympathetic to the sacrifices and desires of their offspring, resort to more absurd measures to help their kids' chances. One friend eager to optimize her tenth grader's college options admitted -- in jest, I think -- "We're looking into competitive ping pong."

Not unlike the flight reservation system, the process has grown so screwy and complex that many colleges hire specialized consultants to help them manage it. Maguire Associates, Noel-Levitz, and Ellucian are a few of the private companies that top colleges pay to help them recruit and retain students. Ellucian, a vaguely pharmaceutical-sounding company based in Fairfax, Virginia, boasts of helping more than 2,400 institutions of higher ed "move education forward." One particular service they provide is what's called "Banner Recruiting and Admissions Performance... a tightly integrated package of scorecards, dashboards, reports, and analytic capabilities that provides admissions and enrollment managers, institutional researchers, and executives with the information they need to track progress toward your institution's enrollment goals." And remember, kids, it's all about finding the right fit.

To be clear: it's not for the kids that colleges bulk up their wait lists. It's to safeguard their standing in a magazine, which in turn protects the bottom line. Though none of this should come as a surprise, it's still mildly disorienting to consider the extent to which college admissions has devolved into a giant competition among our very best schools to move up a list. University administrators argue that a higher rank attracts better professors, more talented students, and more donated money, and anyway, what can they do? But when the rankings come out over the summer, the same college officials who condemn what U.S. News has done to higher education "wave it around like a bride's garter belt if their school gets a favorable review," writes Andrew Ferguson in Crazy U, his scathing takedown of the college process.

"Let's stop this," Jones told me. To restore sanity to the process, she suggests that the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, a collection of top private colleges, decide collectively to disregard the U.S. News rankings. She also wants colleges to tell the truth about what they're looking for in applicants, so that kids who don't fit the culture or who lack the necessary credentials won't apply. Taken together, these steps would likely reduce the number of applications, which would allow colleges to spend more time actually evaluating the candidates. With fewer applicants to review, admissions offices could begin to modify the application, so that students would have more authentic opportunities to express themselves. "Everybody has to start together," Jones said. "This is the education of the human species. There's nothing more important than this."

What Makes a Great College Essay

Jeannie Borin   |   February 21, 2014   10:58 AM ET

A great college essay is more than a good story. Students should ask themselves some
questions before writing and while proofreading any rough drafts.

Which character attributes should shine through?
Ability to work with others? Adaptability? Independence? Maturity?
All of these work -- it's okay also to be less than perfect as we all are just that.

What topics give the student something good to write about?
Work or volunteer experiences? Academic achievement? Overseas travel? Family life? These are good but too general -- isolate an event or one experience. Don't repeat what is evident elsewhere on the application

What happens to those applicants who don't seem to have the experiences to draw from? Writing about small daily occurrences can produce excellent essays.

Here are tips for writing an excellent college admissions essay:

1) Make yourself shine within your own story: It's important that you don't repeat what has already been stated on your activity resume, but you should highlight your accomplishments in your essay -- weave them into your story. Reveal your personality and perhaps your future goals in your writing.

2) Be humble but don't be modest: Don't underestimate yourself in any way and be proud and secure in who you are. Sincerely describe your most impressive accomplishments but don't overdo it.

3) Be confident in your statements: It's important to write as though you deserve gaining acceptance. Present yourself as unique with specific skills and passion.

4) Use personal stories: You really own your essay in this way and no one else can tell your story; this is what makes you unique.

5) Write descriptively: Engage the reader and be specific about your experience. If writing a memorable story about a ride in the car and what you saw, have that reader sitting there with you. A good story is priceless and you will catch attention in this way. Use powerful imagery and personal anecdotes whenever you can. Leave readers with a lasting impression and it will serve you well come decision time!

DOS & DON'TS in college essay writing:

DO

  • Use personal detail: show, don't tell.
  • Be concise.
  • Vary sentence structure and use transitions.
  • Use active voice verbs.
  • Answer the question and follow directions.
  • Seek a few opinions.
  • Stay focused as you have a limited word count.
  • Revise, revise, revise and proofread.

DON'T

  • Write chronologically -- it can be boring.
  • Thesaurus-ize: don't write what you think admission officers want to hear or use language that is not your own.
  • State a point of view without backing it up with details and examples.
  • Repeat what is listed on your activity resume.
  • Use slang.


Your character is the hardest thing for admission officers to measure. The essay is your chance to reveal who you are -- your passions, values, authenticity and sincerity. Be yourself!

Visit us: http://www.college-connections.com

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  |   December 29, 2013   12:13 PM ET

By Winnie Ma

Chances are college decisions are to blame for all of your anxiety right now. After all, it probably feels like your entire life up to this moment has lead you to this decision, and the rest of your life will be determined by it. There's the pressure to pick the right school and have your entire future figured out. Then there's the idea that your entire world is going to crumble to pieces if you don't make the right choice.

Take a breather, for one. Sure, choosing a college is most likely the biggest decision that you've ever had to make so far. But trust us when we say that it isn't the biggest decision of your life. Check out these five reasons why you'll be content wherever you decide to go to college!

1. College decisions impact the immediate future, but not necessarily the long-term future.

It’s easy to think that your college decision will entirely determine the course of the rest of your life. However, Judi Robinovitz, certified educational planner and founder of Score At The Top learning centers and schools, believes that this isn’t necessarily the case. "I would say... that the decision of which college to attend is a milestone decision, and the biggest one a senior would have made so far in her short life," Robinovitz says. "However, it’s a decision that impacts the immediate future, not necessarily the long-term future."

Although it's important to make your college decisions wisely, choosing the right college is just a first step. Sure, your college is going to determine how your next four years are going to pan out, who you'll become friends with, who you'll network with, what skills you'll gain and which internships you'll get. But in the long run, college is just the tip of the iceberg: imagine the many more lifelong friends and acquaintances you'll meet, the career that you'll choose and the job decisions that you'll make in your life.

"Choosing a major is probably a much bigger decision as that will determine [students'] future careers," Robinovitz says. "Choosing an internship or job is also a bigger decision as it has not only financial implications, but has the potential to impact many years of work experience and all the skills the student will gain in her career to impact the non-career aspects of her life, such as her social life, self-esteem, social consciousness, etc."

The college that you attend will influence these experiences, but they won't define them. College just lays down the foundation for many more decisions you'll be making in the future.

2. No matter where you go, you'll be able to gain real-world experience.

There will be plenty of resources at any school that will prepare you for life after college and help you make even bigger decisions, like which career path to take. According to Reyna Gobel, a student loan expert and author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life, students can reach career goals no matter which colleges they attend.

"The biggest and smartest decision a high school student really makes is to put full effort into career exploration," Gobel says. "Whatever school they choose, they need to be in touch with career services and always think about internships. Getting some real-world experience and cementing career goals isn't just important, it's vital."

At most colleges, career centers offer opportunities for students to participate in mock interviews, network with alumni, meet with potential employers, attend resume-building workshops, learn about potential careers and jobs and engage in other activities that prepare them for their dive into the real world, no matter where their starting points are.

3. There are academic and social opportunities at every college.

Every school has its own unique student body and opportunities. No matter which college you end up at, you'll have the chance to explore so many new choices and find your own niche on campus.

"There isn't a school in the world without opportunities," Gobel says. "I would be a different person if I decided to go to the prestigious school I originally planned on attending. It ended up that at the schools I chose, my ambition and experience stood out. I had professors that mentored me."

Click here to read the rest of the article on HerCampus.com

Briana Boyington   |   December 25, 2013    8:00 PM ET

This article comes to us courtesy of U.S. News & World Report, where it was originally published.

Many students who tried to apply to colleges early this fall hit a snag with The Common Application. Major technical glitches tied to the rollout of the platform's latest edition in August, used by more than 500 universities, were widely reported. But the larger problems that plagued the system – and caused many schools to push back early application deadlines – have been fixed, officials say.

Despite the improvements, experts say that students may still run into some technical issues. High school counselors, college admissions officials and representatives from The Common Application – the nonprofit organization behind the application system – encourage students to remain calm and take the following advice if they have trouble completing or submitting college applications.

1. Start applications early: If problems arise, students will have time to make sure their applications are submitted correctly.

When Raj K. Rana noticed that the paragraph formatting on his personal essay and the additional information section of the Common App wasn't saving properly, he tried to insert spaces manually, he told U.S. News on Facebook. When that didn't work, he submitted his application and hoped for the best.

"I am worried that college officials might fall asleep just by looking at my essays' format," Rana wrote.

Rana said that he's concerned about the outcome of his applications, but didn't reach out for tech support because he was a few days from deadline.

"The single most important piece of advice that any of us can give to a student right now is for them to be working and ideally submitting their application before their high school and before colleges close for the holidays," says Kelly A. Walter, associate vice president and executive director of admissions at Boston University.

Students should also avoid submitting applications on popular deadlines like Jan. 1 and 15. The large volume of applicants then can increase wait time for students who need assistance from the Common Application support team, high schools and colleges, experts warn.

[Avoid these 10 common college application mistakes.]

"Given what we have seen this year, the likelihood of problems, of submissions delays, of complications with fee payments are most likely to happen in those last few hours prior to a deadline date," Walter says.

2. Submit detailed requests for help: Experts recommend students go to the applicant help center on the Common Application website to search the FAQs and submit a help ticket before they reach out to colleges and universities for assistance.

Scott Anderson, senior director for policy of The Common Application, says students should log in to their accounts and submit tickets that thoroughly explain their problem from the same computer that was used to complete their applications, as this will help techs solve problems more quickly.

"The more information that they can provide at the outset the more quickly we can assist them," Anderson says.

[Learn how to manage the application process.]

3. Reach out to high school counselors and college admissions offices: Jim Montague, program director for guidance and support services at the Boston Latin School, advises students to talk to their high school counselor in person as soon as they run into problems.

"It makes it easier for us and more efficient if they come by our office. They can open up The Common Application with us and show us exactly what the problem is," Montague says.

Students with concerns about their application after they have submitted a ticket should also reach out to their universities, college admissions officials say.

College officials can outline any additional steps students can take and make note of any complications on the student's file, but students may need to reach out to multiple schools about the correct process.

"That answer may be different from one college to the next. What's right and what works for Ithaca College may not be what another institution wants them to do," says Gerard Turbide, director of admissions for the school.

4. Review, submit and verify: The Common App's Anderson says that it's important for students to make sure they've completed the entire submission process. Students should review their applications, pay any fees, sign an affirmation and hit "submit." After doing so, Anderson recommends they go back into the application's dashboard to make sure that all materials were submitted correctly.

Students should also receive an automated message from the Common App, and colleges typically email students to acknowledge a submission. College admission officials say it's important for students to contact schools immediately if they don't receive a notice.

[Get more tips on applying to college.]

Walter, of Boston University, also advises students to check the websites of any colleges where they've applied for any updates about deadline extensions.

Meanwhile, The Common Application is still at work to resolve any lingering problems.

"We want to help you, we want to give you the assistance that you need and answer the questions that you have," the Common App's Anderson says.

"We really need you to go to the help center to do it."

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

Briana Boyington is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at bboyington@usnews.com.

Hearing Back From Colleges Soon? Read With Caution

Patrick O'Connor   |   December 11, 2013   11:47 AM ET

High school seniors across the country are keeping a close eye on their inboxes and mailboxes, as dozens of colleges prepare to send out admissions decisions this week. Many of these applications were submitted as early decision agreements, where the student agrees to attend the college, if they are admitted now.

This kind of commitment is only made by students who really love that one special school, so it's easy to understand why it's hard to wait -- and it's even easier to understand why these students might not read their entire decision letter once they find out they haven't been admitted. That would be a mistake for any number of reasons, especially this year -- so if you get a "No" or "Maybe" from a college in the next couple of weeks, make sure to take these important steps:

Don't worry if your friends hear first. This has been an unusual year to apply to college, largely due to the technological challenges that came with a new version of the Common Application. Some colleges reported having trouble downloading student information from the new Common App, and that has put some of them behind in reading applications. The end result is that some students who applied early may hear back sooner that applicants whose information was held up by a computer.

Since these delays have nothing to do with test scores or grades, it isn't wise to assume the students who hear first will be admitted, and the students who hear later will be denied. It's more likely than ever this year's decisions will come out in a random fashion -- so hang in there.

If you're admitted Early Decision, you have work to do. A yes from an Early Decision school is a pretty amazing high, and that's very understandable. At the same time, you need to keep reading your admission letter to find out:

• When your financial aid award will be mailed to you
• If you have to let them know you're coming or submit a deposit

Once that's done, you have to contact every other college you've applied to and ask them to withdraw your application. You promised you would do this when you applied Early Decision, so you don't get to "see what happens" with your other applications -- you know where you're going to college, so it's time to honor your commitment.

If the answer isn't yes, find out why. With all of the technological challenges facing colleges and college applicants this year, there's a better chance the college may be writing to say they can't give you an answer because they're missing a part of your application. This won't be the first time they've tried to contact you about this, but if you didn't read their emails or didn't send in the missing material, they can't admit you. If your application is incomplete, contact the college immediately, find out what's missing, and send in the final pieces so you can be reviewed as a regular applicant.

Deferred? Find out what to do next. Colleges will defer a decision if they like what they see, but want to know just a little bit more about you. This is usually a request for your latest grades or test scores -- but the letter will tell you what more they'd like to know. Read closely, send the extra material -- and if you can, send along a note expressing your continued interest in the college. If they tell you not to send anything "extra", give them only what they ask for; in this case, colleges don't award students for creative interpretation.

Sticky, Not-So-Easy Final Questions About the Common App

Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz   |   November 11, 2013    9:47 AM ET

If you have read my last two blogs that feature FAQ's about the Common Application, OR if you have gone through the experience of completing an app, I can imagine you have "had it" with this topic. (Me too!) So without further ado, here we go with (hopefully) the last round of Common App FAQ's, based on recent, actual student/parent questions. As always, my goal is to make life just a little easier for you by identifying and/or explaining what to do and when, as you go through the college admissions process.


1. When I cut, paste and then save an essay into any of the essay question spaces, the result is chaos: no paragraph breaks, sentences broken up right in the middle, huge spaces at the top and sometimes in the middle of the essay. I have spent hours trying to get the formatting to come out right; but each time I save an essay, it's all over the place. Help!

From everything I hear and read about essay formatting, I don't think there is anything you can do about this. In The Common Application Daily Update (October 30, 2013), the following appeared:

"We have informed all member colleges that errors in the text-to-PDF conversion process have the potential to produce essays that contain unusual formatting, including inconsistent fonts and errant paragraph breaks. We have assured colleges that students have no control over this formatting and that these types of errors are our fault, not the students'. We have heard confirmation from many colleges that they will not in any way penalize students for a technical problem that is out of their control."

As I said above, it appears that there is no solution. So sorry, it is what it is. BUT, be sure that your essays conform to the word/character limits. Regardless of the formatting issues, essays will get cut off (right in the middle of words!) if they exceed stated limits. See my HuffPost blog, "The Top 6 Questions Students (and Everyone Else) Are Asking about the New Common Application," for what some of those limits are.


2. I understand that I can change my answers and essays on the Common App after I submit it? Is that correct?

When I sent a question ticket to the Common App Help Center about the issue, this is what they said:

"Applicants may edit the Common App after they submit to one college and before submitting to additional colleges to correct errors or update information. There is no limit to application versions. You can make unlimited edits to the application, including the Additional Information section, but not to the Personal Statement essay. The Personal Statement can have a maximum of three submitted versions."


3. I have been trying to find a place on the Common App to submit my resume. Where is it?

According to the Common App people, "...resumes may be submitted to colleges that want them and may not be submitted to colleges that don't want them. For colleges that accept them, a student can upload their resume in that college's Writing Supplement section. Unlike previous Common Applications, the Common App Additional Information section may not be used for resume submissions."


4. I just can't figure out how to actually submit my application. Will you write out the steps I can follow to help me do that?

Here are the steps for Application Submission:

A. The Dashboard on the Common Application will indicate whether you are ready or not to submit. Yellow dots indicate what has not been submitted. They will turn green upon submission of the Application and Writing Supplement.

  • Go to the Dashboard page that contains your list of colleges.
  • Click on the college to which you are applying and on the left hand side it will show whether

√ All sections of the Common App are completed, noted by ready

√ All of the College Member Questions are completed, noted by ready

√ The Assign Recommenders is completed, noted by ready

  • "Ready" status for all three means that your application can be submitted. Click on the Submit button.
  • Once again, a yellow dot will indicate if something is missing. Click on that heading to go to the section and complete it.

B. Once the Common App is submitted, then move onto the writing supplement and submit it.

  • Go to the 'My Colleges' tab. Click on one college (e.g, Stanford University) and select "Submission-Common App."
  • The first step is print preview. The print preview PDF is generated automatically once you click the "Start Submission button. If you are satisfied with the preview, then click "continue" at the bottom of the page. The only way to preview is through the submission menu. If you are not satisfied with your PDF preview, click the "X" in the top right corner to close the preview and abandon the submission.
  • Be sure to print a copy of the PDF preview.
  • Next, you will be routed to the payment page for the college you selected. Complete that page and copy down the payment tracing number you are provided. You will be able to see if the payment has been posted by following the steps of submission again. If you see the "paid" fee message after the PDF preview, you can then proceed to the signature page. (Warning! If you are prompted to pay again, stop. Don't pay again!) Most payments are posted immediately; others take 24 to 48 hours.
  • If your payment has not been posted to the application after 48 hours, let the Common App Help Center people know and provide them your payment tracing number and the name of the school to which you made the payment.
  • Once the payment is completed, you will sign, date and hit the final Submit. Note: The application will not be submitted until you complete this part.

C. You should receive a submission confirmation email within 24 hours.
Once you submit your application and you see the green check on the dashboard, the school will have access to your application and is able to view


5. Is there one place on the Common App where I can find early and regular application deadlines, application fees and which test scores colleges require?

The Common Application offers users a very helpful grid that identifies all of the information you ask for and then some. Go to the Home Page, scroll to the top where you will find three tabs: About Us, Member Colleges, and Media Inquiries. Click on Member Colleges and then click again on the pull-down tab, Application Requirements. Voila! A pdf will come up that says 2013-2014 College Deadlines, Fee, and Requirements.

The following is what you will find: (I have also provided the definitions of various notations used in the grid.):

A. COMMON APP MEMBER
A-Z, contains the names of the 500+ public and private colleges that use the Common App.


B. TYPE
As the App Requirement Notes say, all of the colleges are co-educational, unless under the Type column it says:
W = Women only
M = Men only
C = Two coordinating single-sex colleges geographically adjacent to one another that share resources.


C. DEADLINES
The grid gives deadline dates for ED (Early Decision), EDII (Early Decision II), EA (Early Action), EAII (Early Action II), REA (Restrictive Early Action), RD (Regular Decision), and Rolling. For explanations of these different ways of applying, go to the Early Applications section of my website.


D. APP FEES
As noted in a previous blog, there is no charge for the Common Application, itself, but some colleges charge differently for US and international students.
US = United States student, citizen or resident
INTL = International student


E. SUPPLEMENTS
ART = Art Supplement
SR = SlideRoom, a website/program that allows individuals to submit their arts materials
COL = colleges that offer then own Art Supplement.
Writing = Many Common Application colleges ask students to answer their own essay questions in the section called Writing Supplement. In order to get into a college's Writing Supplement, applicants must first complete all of the college specific questions that appear in the Common Application.


F. MINIMUM STANDARD TEST POLICY: SAT/ACT Tests Used
The choices include
SAT w/Writng or ACT w/Writing (w = with Writing)
SAT w/o Writing or ACT w/o Writing (w/o = without Writing)
SAT w/Writing or ACT w/Writing, 2 SAT Subject Tests
SAT w/o Writing and 2 SAT Subject Test or ACT w/o Writing
"See website" = Means that the Common App finds a school's test policy too complex to be described on its grid and you should check the individual website


G. TEST POLICY
A = Tests Always Required
F = Test Flexible (Means that a variety of factors might be looked at by a college, including test scores. Check the college's website to see exactly what they are.)
N = Tests Never Used
S = Tests Sometimes Required


H. INTL = LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY TESTS
If a student is an international student and English is not his/her first or primary language, a college may require one of the following language proficiency tests.
I = IELTS = International English Language Testing System (managed by Cambridge University, the British Council and the IDP Education Pvt. Ltd
T = TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language (offered by Educational Testing Service, ETS)
PTE = Pearson Test of English


I. RECOMMENDATIONS
Oddly enough, the grid does not offer a space for a counselor. That is taken care of by the Recommender section in each of the college sections of the Common App. However, in the notes section, Common App says, "For those counselors submitting recommendations online...all institutions now require the School Report and Final Report."
TE = Teacher Evaluations (number of teacher evaluations required: 1 or 2)
OE = Other Evaluations (indicates that a school accepts recommendations from people other than teacher, mentors, ministers, art teachers, clergy, family members, peers, work supervisors, coaches, etc.)
MR = Mid Year Report required


J. SAVES FORMS
Indicates whether the colleges saves recommendations once a student has matriculated into a college.
Y = Yes

Just so you know, as of the 10/23/13 update of the grid, not all of the early deadlines had been brought up to date.

Unless I hear from readers that they want more, with this submission I am retiring from my self-assigned role of writing about The Common Application. Do feel free to submit comments with your questions should you still have issues or problems with the Common App. I truly wish you all well.

(Much of the above information has been excerpted from The Common Application Help Center, Application Requirements Notes, Daily Update, and Common App Facebook.)

Incomplete College Applications? Been There, Faxed That

Patrick O'Connor   |   November 7, 2013    1:14 PM ET

"Hu -- hello?"

"Dr. O'Connor?"

"Last time I checked, yes."

"Dr. O'Connor, it's Robert again."

"Hello Robert. What time is it?"

"It's two AM, Dr. O'Connor. I'm sorry I woke you up."

"Not a problem, Robert. I had to get up to answer the phone anyway. What's up?"

"I felt so much better after I left your office -- I really thought everything was going to be OK. But then I started talking to some seniors, and I got worried all over again. What if something didn't go through? What if one part is missing? What if -- ?"

"Robert, I appreciate your concerns at this late hour, just as I appreciated them when we talked at a more civilized time of day."

"I appreciate that, Dr. O'Connor. But do you think you could tell me the story again?"

"The one I told you today?"

"Yes."

"All right. But remember, I'm on the counselor advisory board of Common App, so this is confidential stuff."

"I'll take it to my grave."

"Very well. Once upon a time, there was a magical device called the Common Application. High school seniors from far and wide valued its healing powers to alleviate the tedious, boring parts of applying to college..."

"...not to mention writer's cramp."

"Robert, it seems you remember this tale well. Perhaps I could hang up, and let you tell it to yourself."

"No, no. Please go on."

"Rather than devote hours providing separate colleges with the same basic information of name, address, and current class schedule, seniors wrote that information on just one paper form, and made copies of it. This gave them more time and energy for the crafting of thoughtful, creative essays, which are the most important part of any college application form."

"I love this part."

"Students put copies of their part of the Common Application in stamped envelopes, which would wing their way to colleges across the country. Teachers would do the same thing with their letters of recommendations, and counselors sent transcripts the same way, until every part of a student's application was transformed into a complete file, thanks to the nimble envelope-opening skills of a cadre of vastly underpaid, cold-pizza eating, work study students."

"But it wasn't a perfect system."

"Indeed it was not. Parts of applications sometimes never reached their rightful file, even though they were sent with best intentions, and in a timely fashion. When this happened, the university would notify the student, causing enough well-meaning anxiety in the student to ask a teacher or counselor to provide the missing piece of the application by sending another copy -- "

" -- by fax."

"By fax, dear Robert. The colleges gladly received these vital but slightly fuzzy copies, placed them in their logistical homes, and the files lived complete ever after."

"I love that part."

"I'm glad you do, Robert, since that is exactly what will happen this year if most Common App colleges are missing any part of the electronic version of a student's application."

"And it won't impact the student's chances of admission?"

"Not in the least."

"Wow. I'm going to have to learn how to work that -- what did you call it again?"

"Fax machine, Robert. And I'll be happy to show you how it works, when we're in the office -- "

"Tomorrow morning?"

"Later this morning."

"Right. Thanks, Dr. O'Connor. I'm sorry I bothered you."

"Robert, now that you're also a school counselor, you can call me Patrick."

"Thanks."

"Unless you think about contacting me again at two in the morning, in which case -- "

"I shouldn't call you at all?"

"Exactly."

Are Problems with the Common Application Overhyped?

Youth Radio -- Youth Media International   |   October 31, 2013    6:20 PM ET

By Bianca Brooks

I was so excited about applying to college that I started filling out the forms long before school began. I was only applying to one school, my dream school. But before I knew it, the November deadline was upon me, and I still had tons to do before I was ready to press "submit."

So when I found out that because of technical glitches with the Common App, my school's early decision deadline was extended -- I was ecstatic, but it seems like I was the only one.

Sure, I get why people are upset. Some people's payments didn't clear and other people's teacher recommendations didn't get submitted, but I think the backlash was a little over dramatic.

I'm more annoyed that the option to submit an essay on the topic of my choice is no longer available. Instead I'm left with ambiguous prompts like, "talk about a personal story your application wouldn't be complete without." I also rolled my eyes at the $10 I had to pay just to add pictures of my artwork to the application.

Maybe I should be worried about the glitches, because I'm only submitting one application and if anything goes wrong, it's all over for me. But instead, I just keep thinking about what my literature teacher told me about college applications on the first day of school.

"You can't worry about things that are out of your control," she said. "You've already done all the hard work, getting into college is not your problem, it's the admission officers' problem. Let them and your parents worry for you." And worry they do.

When the glitches were exposed, it seemed every news article was full of angry adults raving about the injustice done to their children.

I've come to realize that the college application process is a very sacred time for me. I get to feel proud of the work I've done, and think about what I want for my future. Instead of freaking out about the glitches, I decided to embrace them as a silver lining. Because between college applications, school work, and being thrown out into the real world in a few months, who needs the extra stress?

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org

Contrived Essay Prompts Constrain College Applicants

Josh Stephens   |   October 30, 2013    8:46 AM ET

One of the threadbare slogans that almost every college repeats is that applicants should "be themselves." While some applicants would do better not to heed this advice, it's certainly true that colleges genuinely want applicants to present the very best of themselves.

In particular, their application essays should be dripping with personality, unique anecdotes, and distinctive thought. As I always told my students, a good essay should read such that it could have been written by no one besides the author. This is not the time for clichés, generic musings, or heart-warming tales that every other human (especially adults) have either experienced or heard about a million other times.

How, though, can a student "be himself" if he must conform to five new, unalterable essay prompts? (I covered the topics in two previous posts: here and here.)

Previously, the Common Application offered students a choice among six essay prompts, the last of which was "write on a topic of your choice." This year, that final choice has been eliminated, and five new, untested prompts have replaced the others. Of all the substantive changes made to the Common App, the elimination of the open-ended essay option may rank as the worst (I'm not even going to get into the technological Titanic that is the CA4, as it is called).

In the classroom, essay prompts make perfect sense. Teachers and students have been in the same room together and borne witness to the same discussions. Teachers know what they want their students to have absorbed, and they use prompts to discover whether students have succeeded.

But when students are beholden to anonymous prompts, devised by technocrats, an otherwise genuine personal reflection can turn into just another writing exercise. Though they may inspire interesting thought experiments, the Common App's five prompts cannot accommodate the full range of genius and idiosyncrasies that today's students, from plugger to genius, can exhibit.

Previously, if a student had a great response to one of the five, then life was grand. Sometimes, though, students started out conforming to one of the specific prompts, but, as their essays evolved, they might have found them veering away from the original question. No sweat. The free-response option served as a release valve.

That release valve has now been replaced by anxiety: that of "answering the question" rather than just writing. Now writers must constantly ask themselves, "Am I responding to the prompt? Am I responding to it in the right place? Am I responding to it enough? Am I doing what they want me to do???" I can't imagine a worse way to write.

Consider the following two scenarios, both of which assume that the students are solid writers with a decent array of possible essay topics in their respective personal histories.

  • Student One values earnestness above all other virtues. If left purely to her own devices, she might write an extraordinary essay about the solar cell that she patented and is developing for commercial production with General Electric. Not finding a suitable prompt to fit this topic. She instead writes about learning to bake her grandmother's pies because it would be a nice fit for Prompt No. 5, which asks for some twaddle about the transition from childhood to adulthood.
  • Student Two is so assertive that honey badgers flee from his presence. He's going to write about the degradation of his urban neighborhood, and his protests against City Hall, come hell or high water. He writes a stunning essay, ignoring the prompts entirely, and in his final draft tacks on a falsely modest conclusion about how his protest was a failure, just to nominally conform with Prompt 2.

Both get rejected.

Why? The admissions committee can't believe that Student One would write such an insipid essay despite extraordinary academic accomplishments. Student Two was doing great until that weird conclusion; even modesty ought to have its limits.

These are exaggerations, but not necessarily egregious ones.

I expect that Student One is more representative of the applicant pool, especially those competing for highly selective schools. Good students are generally an obedient bunch. They wouldn't be legitimate candidates if they couldn't pay attention and follow directions (not that colleges don't respect a little rebellion).

If you need evidence of how out of touch the Common App is not only with students but also with its 500 member schools, consider the success of applicants who wrote on their own topics. In my own experience, not a single one of my students -- dozens of kids each year, some of whom wrote breathtaking essays -- ever chose one of the prescribed prompts (why limit yourself?). And yet, my students consistently, and deservedly, got into Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Duke, the UC, and any other top school you'd care to name. If opting for freedom is so bad, then why were these schools, some at with admission rates below 10 percent, so welcoming?

(In particular, the new prompts offer scant opportunity for students to discuss their intellectual lives. There is nothing referring to academic work or even to "ideas." This, for an application to college.)

Finally, there's now a clash with most public universities and with every private university that doesn't fall within the Common App's orbit. Most of these non-Common App schools rely on open-ended prompts. Therefore, students will either have to write brand-new essay anyway (thus contradicting the Common App's sanctimonious desire to save students from writing too many essays), or these universities will receive a curious number of essays based on failures, contentment, and transitions from childhood to adulthood.

Did admissions officers ever really care which prompt students responded to? At the OACAC conference a few months ago, Tufts admissions officer Daniel Greyson said -- in no uncertain terms -- that he didn't so much as look at the prompts that students chose. He cared only about the responses because, well, good writing is good writing, and smart is smart.

This year, Greyson, and thousands of his counterparts across the country, are going to be wondering: Who is this student really? And is baking that pie, however delicious it sounds, really the most compelling thing she's done in her life?

Why the Common App Failed Online Applicants

James Werner   |   October 24, 2013    1:03 PM ET

Applying to college is arguably one of the most stressful experiences for any high school student. The pressure that comes with submitting applications to several schools can become overwhelming. The Common Application was developed, in part, to help relieve this stress, creating a standardized application that is now accepted at over 500 colleges and universities. But what was once a solution to the application process has now become a pain-point. Over the past several weeks, media reports have been detailing the enormous challenges students are facing this season when attempting to use the online platform. These failures in technology highlight a major issue within the current college application process: the failure to evolve with the times.

With the ubiquity of technology in modern day life, antiquated systems must adapt or risk extinction. Glitches in the Common App technology have sent ripples through the process for both applicants and schools alike this year. Take Georgia Tech, for example. With students unable to complete their online applications, the university has been forced to push back the entire review process by several weeks -- a substantial burden on both applicants and university staff. With an impact of such magnitude, it's time to re-evaluate the antiquated application process. Areas where the Common App failed are precisely the areas where alternatives will succeed.

Failure to Modernize
In its current form, the Common Application is simply a conversion of the print version of the application to a Web format. By simply taking the traditional paper application online, the transition process neglected technology native to the Web, resulting in several technology failures that are causing distress to those using the service. For a generation that has grown up with technology fully integrated into their lives, a lack of responsive and intuitive applications can be more than frustrating -- it can be debilitating. A modern application process must take advantage of current Web-based tools and protocols. Not allowing applicants to upload required documents or failing to integrate working ecommerce platforms is simply unacceptable.

Failure to Simplify the Process
Perhaps most important is the Common App's failure to simplify the process; the reason it was created in the first place. Inadequate or broken tools have hindered rather than helped students to finish their applications Schools continually search for better ways to encourage application completion -- the very reason that so many of them have turned to the Common App. Unfortunately, the lapse in Common App technology has produced precisely the opposite effect.

Failure to Acknowledge User Experience
The truth is, the Common Application was doomed for failure from the start simply because it neglected to factor in the student experience. The antiquated system no longer fits the lifestyle of prospective students, making the experience more stressful than it needs to be. As with any technology, it must be developed with the end user in mind. The failure to incorporate social media and sharing technologies in addition to the lack of video and multimedia capabilities fell short of the hype, and has resulted in a poor user experience.

Reliance on the Common Application must be reconsidered. With the technology available today, application platforms should provide students a place to showcase their skill sets and accomplishments. They should provide reviewers an opportunity to efficiently consider applicants in a reasonable amount of time. In its current form, universities cannot depend upon the Common Application as a reliable means for reviewing potential candidates in a timely fashion. For students in particular, the process of applying to colleges is stressful enough. They don't need a broken application process to make things even worse.

Why Highly Selective Colleges Should Kiss the Common App Goodbye

Dr. Michele Hernandez   |   October 24, 2013    9:04 AM ET

I'm a card-carrying member of the college admissions "old guard," having spent from 1992-1997 evaluating applications for Dartmouth College as an Assistant Director of Admissions. We were troglodytes who used actual "paper" files in actual hard copy folders (remember those?) that arrived at our office via (gasp) the United States Post Office (sometimes even UPS or Fed Ex). Teacher letters were sent via U.S. mail along with school materials like transcripts.

Our systems office received and opened every piece of mail, and filed them in the students' files which were sorted by name and social security number and birthdate. Once complete, each file made its way upstairs to a file drawer where we would pull files, first by region and then randomly until each file was read by at least two admissions officers (in between reads, they went back to systems where new information was added).

We had the liberty to read files at work or at home, so I would scoop up my daily allotment of 25-30 files and read in my pajamas, sipping tea and reclining in my favorite chair. The system worked well -- we rarely lost anything and if something were missing, a student could call us and because everything was logged into the computer, it was easy to check. The best part was that we could ask the questions WE wanted to hear about since it was OUR application.

Dartmouth College has never been a run of the mill Ivy, and there were things we cared about that we could ask in our application so we didn't simply get run of the mill applicants who were just "tossing in" a Common Application even though they might not be interested in attending. In other words, we customized our application and read essays we wanted to read.

The Common App has sanitized the admissions process to the point that top colleges are forced to rely more on grades, scores and metrics than on actual substance. Why? Every college is different and looks for different qualities in their applicants but are forced to use one generic application.

Until this year, the Common App at least allowed a "topic of your choice" question to permit the applicant a modicum of creativity. Not so the new Common App (CA4) which has been a disaster since inception. Its official launch was slated for August 1st, but with new questions, new data entry, new format and a new interface, we had early indications that these changes were too ambitious to meet that schedule.

Sure enough, we had a chance to test drive the new Common App with 50+ students this August at our Application Boot Camp program in Boston where we help students prepare their applications and develop a personalized application strategy. Every single student had technical issues from the get-go. Sign-ins were not recognized, text was cut off, print preview didn't work, material wasn't saved, NO uploads were allowed (as had been the case in years past), pop ups didn't work -- an unmitigated disaster.

When our students got back to school, things went from bad to worse. Outside recommender forms failed, the FAQ section had thousands of questions already with thousands more to follow, more glitches were discovered every day, payments were refused, high schools were locked out of the system (talk about conflict of interest -- the company Hobsons, which has a partnership with the Common App, also owns Naviance, the preferred software used by many high schools to upload transcripts and school materials -- hmmmm) and depending on which browser you used, some parts worked, some didn't.

With a week left before deadlines, the Common App with its support staff of eight people (yes, you read that right -- they have no phone support and this skeleton staff is responsible for millions of users in the regular round) is scrambling to fix the glitches that are plaguing the early round of applications due November 1st. In just the early round, apps are up 19 percent to 229,185 as of Oct. 18, filed by 97,281 students.

Other issues? This year's Common App got rid of UPLOADS so for the first time, students can no longer upload an activity list/resume or, for that matter, ANY document. Basically the Common App has one 650-word (maximum) essay and no other writing. No uploads, no extra info. Plain vanilla. What if you are applying to an engineering school, a business school and a liberal arts school? Too bad -- you have to write ONE essay for all three and hope that somewhere, a supplemental question might let you address WHY you are picking that particular program. Because there are no uploads, students can't even include a short WHY paragraph (why they are applying and why they are a good fit).

Initially, the Common Application appealed to colleges because it promised make admission more "equitable" for low-income students because they would need only ONE application for multiple schools. And colleges, liberal-minded as they are, couldn't say no to making the process "fair" for low-income students. The problem is that the Common Application was, well, common and didn't give enough information for selective schools, so the majority of selective schools simply added cumbersome "supplements."

Now, a student applying, say, to Williams has to do the Common App essays plus the supplements for Williams and similar supplements for every other school he is applying to. How is that saving any time from simply doing a separate Williams application? Not to mention that high schools are required to submit transcripts and teacher recommendations electronically -- does the Common App really think that large, urban high schools in low-income areas (who are chronically understaffed to start with) are equipped with sleek modernized computers, home computers for every student, high-speed internet, a tech staff and the manpower to upload hundreds of items through the internet? Let's face it -- most low-income families rely more on the U.S. Postal Service than high-speed data connections and fancy computers.

Selective colleges should revert to their OWN applications available via PDF on their web sites that can be submitted either in hard copy or through their web site. They should think about what essays they want to read, what questions they want to ask and what additional information they want. All our students have specific application strategies that might include 5-15 colleges, but NONE are interested in simply filling out a generic application and sending it to 40 colleges.

The Common App had its chance, but this year it's blown it big time; in the process, it's exposed many of the problems and inequities of the admissions process. It's time for colleges to draw a line in the sand. Stand up for yourselves -- say NO to a common application, and design one that is specific to your college. And while you're at it, let students send it via post if they so choose.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Hobsons owns the Common App. Hobsons has a partnership with the Common App.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Naviance is the software needed by high schools upload application materials for the Common App. The post has been updated to reflect that Naviance is commonly used but not required to upload materials for the Common App.