The Common App Conundrum


September 25, 2010
by Alexis Mattera
The college application process is already underway and for many high school seniors, this means filling out multiple applications and composing an essay for each school on their list…unless they use the Common Application. This 35-year-old document is accepted by more than 400 schools; in fact, in the 2009-2010 admissions cycle, approximately 500,000 students used the Common App. While some admissions deans sing its praises for helping to recruit more first-generation and minority students, it elicits a far less favorable response from others.

The college application process is already underway and for many high school seniors, this means filling out multiple applications and composing an essay for each school on their list…unless they use the Common Application. This 35-year-old document is accepted by more than 400 schools; in fact, in the 2009-2010 admissions cycle, approximately 500,000 students used the Common App. While some admissions deans sing its praises for helping to recruit more first-generation and minority students, it elicits a far less favorable response from others.

Some of the most selective schools in the country have adopted the Common App like UChicago and Columbia but there are still a number of schools averse to the idea. The Chronicle’s Eric Hoover picked the brain of Charles A. Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of admissions and a vehement opposer of the Common App. While he agrees with the Common App promotes equality, Deacon feels it is an unnecessary tool, an unwelcome symbol of homogenization in admissions and “an enabler of bad behavior.” If the school adopted the Common App, Deacon says it would likely attract 3,000 to 5,000 additional applicants but “as long as you get the diversity you need, it doesn’t matter how many applications you have.”

Some admissions staffers at schools not accepting the Common App have been asked essentially what their problem is for not accepting it. It’s a decision that shouldn’t been arrived at quickly, that’s for sure, but it seems to be one that can do more good than harm – especially since so many schools allow their applications to be submitted online and the amount of paperwork (and risk of paper cuts) is far lower. Maybe I would feel differently if I were on an admissions committee but from where I’m currently sitting, wider adoption of the Common App seems like the way to go for schools wanting to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

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