The Common App debuts system enhancements for 2016–17

The Common Application raised the curtain for 2016–17, a few hours in advance of the publicized August 1 opening and sent a flurry of curious applicants and their advisors running to the website for a sneak peek at what colleges have in place for the coming year.

And they weren’t disappointed. Of nearly 700 members (hint: some are brand new and unannounced), about two-thirds or nearly 550 colleges were ready to start accepting applications from ‘day one.’ The rest presumably will open on their own schedules or once lingering technical problems are resolved.

In recent months, considerable thought has gone into upgrading the look and feel of the Common App, and the new homepage introduced last year represents a major departure from earlier versions. There’s definitely intent to make the application more appealing to users through creative use of color and design, which carries as far as the log-in page, after which the application reverts to the more familiar format.

Optimized for mobile devices, the homepage provides a portal to the application, features a handy search for member colleges and introduces the Common App’s “Virtual Counselor” — a growing collection of videos and advice from experts in college admissions.

There are also links to the Common App blog, “What’s (app)ening?,” the Help Center as well as to the all-important Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, both of which offer interesting reading for anyone who wants to know what tracking technologies are in place and how the Common Application uses applicant information. As it turns out, the Common App collects a great deal of personally identifiable information and tracks users’ movements around the site to “gain certain behavior information about you that is shared between us and our members.” And even if you opt out of sharing, some information may be shared anyway.

To explore system requirements, users need to leave the homepage and find a link provided at the bottom of either the registration page or one of the various log-in pages. The short answer is that regardless of allowable browser, users must make sure the following browser settings are correct to facilitate the kind of tracking described in the Privacy Policy:

  • Javascript must be enabled
  • Cookies must be enabled
  • Popup blockers must be disabled

To view and print PDF files, the Common App also recommends Adobe Acrobat Reader 11 or higher. While PDF files should work with most other pdf viewers, the Common App only guarantees full compatibility and support for Adobe Acrobat Reader 11 or higher.

And applicants should be sure to add appsupport@commonapp.net to their email address books or contact lists, so communications from the Common App or responses to questions don’t end up in SPAM or the junk folder.

In addition to Account Rollover, which provided transition between application years, top enhancements for the 2016–17 application system include:

  • Gender Identity. The label of the sex question changed to “sex assigned at birth” with an information button advising students that they will have an opportunity to share additional details concerning their gender identity within the application.
  • College Search. It is now possible to search for colleges by “application fee,” “writing requirements,” “test requirements” and “recommendation requirements.” These searches are in addition to other pre-existing criteria.
  • Auto Save. The system will now save the open section every 90 seconds. Clicking “Upload” also automatically saves questions in the section the student is working in. And while working on a long answer or essay, the “save” occurs automatically if the student times out while editing a long answer in full screen mode.
  • Self-reported Scores. The application now provides for reporting scores from both the old (before March 2016) and new (March 2016 or after) SAT tests.
  • Citizenship. U.S. Refugee or Asylee status was added as an option under the Citizenship Status question and removed from the Visa question. Non-U.S. citizens will be asked to identify both the currently held Visa type (if applicable) and their intended future Visa type. Students also have the option to select, “I do not know which Visa I will hold.”
  • Review and Submit. There are now three separate links that can take students back to Common App questions, College-specific questions and Recommenders and FERPA. The Personal Essay requirement and link will appear when a college requires the essay but the student hasn’t completed it yet.

In preparation for the new application year, the Common App has put together a number of videos, presentations and other resources designed to walk students, parents, counselors or anyone else with a “need to know” through every aspect of the application from account creation through submission. These materials may be found in webpages labeled “Common App Ready.”

For a list of “live” Common App member schools (note that about 20 percent of the membership is not live as of this writing) visit the Applicant Solutions Center. Although it doesn’t exactly match the list of member institutions provided elsewhere on the site, it represents a good start and will be updated daily.

The Applicant Solutions Center also houses other really useful information like Known Issues and Progress Updates. This might make for interesting reading if you’re experiencing a particular problem with the application. And this is also where you can ask a question without officially logging in.

If you are looking for the Application Requirements Grid, you have to be a bit more creative. If you are an applicant, you will find the requirements grid in the College Search tab in your account OR you may simply click on the link provided in the Applicant Solutions Center. Note that the grid is only as accurate as what the colleges tell the Common App and has a few glitches, which will no doubt be corrected as more colleges complete their paperwork and go “live.” Nevertheless, it’s a handy tool for users especially insofar as it provides information on deadlines as well as on which colleges require (or don’t require) what kinds of recommendations.

The Common App promises there is more to come in the way of expanded resources and richer content to help students and families “demystify” the college admissions process. At the same time, staff will be monitoring how the application works and welcomes recommendations for clarification or improvement via the Applicant Solutions Center.