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The Newest Changes to the 2020-2021 Common Application

12 AUG 2020

When the Common Application was created in 1975, they had one goal: to create an application that students could fill out just once and send it to multiple colleges instead of having to repeat the same information in each individual application. Since 1975, hundreds of universities have joined the Common Application, and it is constantly evolving to improve the experience for students and admissions officers alike.

This year is no different, and with the effects of COVID-19, there are many changes to the Common Application that students need to be aware of in order to produce a successful application!

New Member Colleges

One big change in the 2020-2021 application cycle is that 42* new schools have joined the Common Application. What does this mean? This means that students will be able to use the Common App to apply to schools like Texas Tech and Auburn, which were previously only accessible through their own application portals. Other popular schools that have joined the Common App include Clemson, Loyola University Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Georgia, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, and New College of the Humanities, London.

Updates to Activity Section

One big update in the activity section of the Common App is the separation of “Position/Leadership Description” and “Organization Name.” This will allow more characters for students to describe their position name and the name of their organization without having to use acronyms.

COVID-19 Prompt for Students and Counselors

The Common Application has taken measures to relieve students of some anxiety caused by COVID-19 and has created a dedicated space to explain how students have been impacted by the virus, both personally and academically. Students will be asked the question:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

The question will be optional and limited to 250 words. Instances that may influence students to answer this question include, but are not limited to, illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.

Don’t feel as though you were that affected? That is absolutely okay, too! You can skip this section and focus on the other parts of your narrative.

Some students have asked us if it would be appropriate to use this question to talk about how the pandemic has positively impacted them as it has allowed more time to work on extracurriculars and focus on their passions that they may not have had time for before social distancing and shelter-in-place. While it is awesome that some students are benefiting from the changes in education, this question should only be answered to explain the negative effects of the virus. If you’d like to talk more about how the virus has had a positive impact on your extracurricular or academic profiles, consider writing about this in your personal statement!

The Common App has also given all college counselors the opportunity to disclose any relevant information on how their school and the larger community were impacted. Within a 500-word limit, counselors may elaborate on how their school adapted their grading scales and policies, graduation requirements, instructional methods, schedules and course offerings, testing requirements, academic calendar, and other extenuating circumstances. All of this will be taken into account by the admissions officers!

Upgrades to User Experience

The Common Application has made changes in the identification section of the form. Where students indicate their racial identity, students will now be able to identify as “Latino/a/x” versus just “Latino.”

Students will also have the ability to indicate proficiency in more than one “Other” language. This is great news for students that were previously unable to share their native and learned languages.

Changes such as a task list with upcoming deadlines that are due, a walk-through tutorial of the common app, and the option to upload multiple files per question are a few of the updates to the first-year recommender system.

Finally, students can now search FAQs while working in the application. This will make finding certain questions and prompts easier.

While these changes will certainly make the application process easier for many, the task can still be daunting. It is important to start early, ask questions, and get help when needed! If you’d like to speak with one of our academic advisors about the best course of action for your applications, schedule a complimentary assessment here!


*The new members of the Common App include:

Bryn Athyn College (PA), Carlow University (PA), Holy Family University (PA), Medaille College (NY), Baker College (MI), Buena Vista University (IA), Bethel University (MN), Cornerstone University (MI), Lake Superior State University (MI), Indiana Wesleyan University (IN), Loyola University Chicago (IL), Northern Illinois University (IL), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (WI), Wilmington College (OH), Arkansas Baptist College (AR), Auburn University (AL), Augusta University (GA), Clemson University (SC), Coastal Carolina University (SC), Lees-McRae College (NC), Milligan University (TN), Norfolk State University (VA), Palm Beach Atlantic University (FL), Richard Bland College of William and Mary (VA), Spalding University (KY), Texas Tech University (TX), Trevecca Nazarene University (TN), Tuskegee University (AL), University of Georgia (GA), University of Louisville (KY), University of Texas at Dallas (TX), University of Texas at San Antonio (TX), University of South Florida (FL), Virginia Tech (VA), Winthrop University (SC), Fresno Pacific University (CA), University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (CO), University of Maryland (MD), and New College of the Humanities, London

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