Preparing for College

Common App Supplements Must Go!

Let's see a show of hands.

Question: Who can tell me the original intent of the Common Application?


If you're thinking, “To provide a single application vehicle that will serve all Common Application member schools uniformly," then go to the head of the class. But , oh, how that ideal has been corrupted.

They should change the name. It should now be known as the Common Application PART 1.

Maybe you've already experienced this first-hand as an applicant, or perhaps you've felt your son's or daughter's pain as they slogged through the extra essays and other extraneous—and mostly needless—requests for more information and brain time on their supplements.

Take a look at this. Note the preface:

Common Application Supplement Information

Below is a listing of the current Common Application member institutions. You may view specific information on a member institution by clicking on the name of the institution in the left-hand column in the grid.

If an institution requires a supplemental form in addition to the submission of the Common Application, this is indicated by the 'Supplement' link in the Supplement column. The 'Supplement' link will allow you download a PDF version of the institution's supplement, or you will be taken to the institution's website for more instructions on downloading and completing a supplement [my emphasis].

Just look at the number of schools that require a supplement! I randomly checked some alphabetic pages and am willing to bet that at least 75% of Common App member schools require a supplement. I think that raises a valid point:

If these supplement-requiring schools need more information than the Common App provides, then why don't they publish their own school-specific application? The length and time commitment required by some of these supplements is imposing, not to mention the annoyance of having to decipher an additional set of instructions on a different Web site, as cited above.

For example, here's a three-page (!) beauty from Yale University. I won't take the time to list all the additional information they require from their applicants. You can take a look for yourself.

Maybe some of these supplement-needy schools are just trying to separate the wheat from the chaff by creating hurdles that must be leaped in order to apply. “How much do you really want to apply here, kid?" the admissions committee members snicker, as they add yet another “short response" question to their burgeoning supplement. “Hey, how about if we ask 'em for their favorite model of car? That'll get 'em second-guessing about if we want to see a “green" answer or a “cool" answer. Hahahaha!"

I exaggerate to make my point, obviously, but I couldn't be more serious about my disdain for Common App supplements. What we need is a rigidly enforced, standardized, uniform method of applying to college with no exceptions. Perhaps we even need a College Applicants Bill of Rights.

If this isn't possible, as is the case with the long-corrupted Common Application, then it's time to go back to separate, school-specific applications. I have no problem with that. One immediate benefit of going back would be to discourage seniors from shotgunning Common Apps to 15, 20, even 30 (or more) schools, thus taking away seats from other more passionately interested applicants.

For many seniors, it's a sellers' market. There's way too much competition for a seat. At these ultra-competitive colleges, the deck has been stacked in favor of the colleges far too long. Granted, eliminating supplements won't change the odds much, if at all, but it could reign in some of these schools and make them show a bit more consideration for their applicants. It's about time.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.