New features to the 2016/2017 CA

I just finished a webinar on the 2016-2017 Common Application and have a few reports to make as you begin writing your applications. The CA will officially launch on 1 August—many of you have already signed up and that’s excellent—with individual university supplements and all features available after this date. (If you’ve signed up pre-1 August you’ll have to go through a screen or two to “roll over” your account—nothing to be afraid of or anything that will take more than a minute to complete.)

Here are some highlights/changes to the 2016-2017 Common Application and I’ll be sending to each of my students after 1 August a play-by-play on each of the sections to help guide you through:

  • There will be over 700 universities under the Common Application umbrella for this year’s applications including a number of new institutions who previously only used their own portals, such as Indiana and Purdue.

  • More than 250 universities on this year’s Common App (“CA”) have no application fee. (You’ll be able to search for these exclusively, a new feature I like.)

  • There is a “gender identity” question asking the applicant’s sex assigned at birth. The CA explained federal guidelines that require them to ask this question.

  • As I mentioned above, if you’ve already signed up (like me!) you’ll just be asked a few “roll over” questions after 1 August to get you, well, rolled over. It should not take us more than a minute to get through. (Last year we could not roll over and had to start anew, just to give context here.)

  • There is a new “search” function to search for all applications that do not require an application fee for international students, those that have particular testing policies, etc. Again, I like this feature for my students who might be seeking out at this stage a few more institutions with a test-optional application procedure.

  • Saving your work! The portal should save all work every 90 minutes automatically and any time you upload something. I tell my students regardless to just be quite diligent about saving proactively, like every 15 minutes, and never to write your essays or supplements first in the CA and instead finish them in Word or otherwise and then go and cut-and-paste.

  • Self-reporting test scores: I’ll talk to my students about this again in detail but in brief as a reminder, you’ll be given the opportunity as in past years to “self-report” test scores. It’s a little bit of a gray area and it warrants explanation and strategy discussions. This year what’s different is that you can self-report the “before March 2016” SAT and then the “after March 2016” SAT. You cannot self report sub-scores for the ACT. They will be sent officially by you to all institutions regardless who require them but in the CA you are not self-reporting down to the sub-score for writing.

  • When you’re selecting your citizenships—plural for most of my students—you will be given the option to select which visa you intend to apply for…or to say you don’t know. I’ll guide you through this.

  • Another new feature I think I’ll like and that you’ll appreciate is at the time of reviewing and submitting applications the system will break down for you what, if anything, is missing. Before it didn’t and made you go back and search.

  • There is a “Virtual Counselor” that supposedly can help with student questions. Let’s see how effective it is. In the past it was difficult to navigate and find quick answers to questions but I think it gets a bit better every year.

  • There’s a new “mobile application” for the CA this year—ready to go for iPhone users and “to come” for Android, they said—that allows students not to apply but instead to track: deadlines, reminders, recommenders. It is not a tool to complete applications. I think this is a good thing. Imagine the quality of applications you’d send out if you’re doing them on your phone…yuck.

  • There’s a new pilot program with Scholar Snapp and the Dell Foundation and a question on the CA asking if you’d like more information on it. It will not be “gauged” by universities how you respond; instead it’s a way to link you to this portal, in essence, of loads of external scholarship opportunities (none are tied to the member institutions). So, my advice on this is if you’re interested, sign up. It can’t hurt. It will be free and be a mix of need-based and merit-based scholarship opportunities.

  • About 40 member institutions this year will ask/offer to students in their supplement questions to upload a URL to share more with the admissions committee. This could be a link to YouTube, etc. I’ll give specific advice on how to “use” this to my students as it should not be a free-for-all. It could hurt more than help if you’re not strategic and smart about it.

  • Colleges cannot ask on the CA which other colleges you are applying to as per the NACAC (I am a member of OACAC or International ACAC, it’s international counterpart) regulations and CA being a member of NACAC. This is a good thing.

  • Universities cannot see your college list over CA. Ever.

  • There has been no change to the essays—that includes the prompts, as you already know, and also to how you can modify your essays after you submit to one college and then change to send to another. Rarely, if ever, have my students modified after one college anyhow. You’re so prepared with your CA essay and it “fits” for any and all colleges you apply to, so this probably won’t pertain to you.

This was a good presentation by Common App and I was glad to participate with IECA. I’ll follow up with my students post 1 August with specific guidelines and strategies for filling out the sections of the CA itself. In the meantime, students, you’re finishing up your main CA essay!

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