When students, parents, and even college counselors discuss what it takes to get admitted to college, they tend to focus on the big ticket items: transcript, test scores, letters of recommendation, activities/honors, and essays. Don't get me wrong, these pieces of the application matter a whole lot to college admissions officers.
However, before an admissions officer ever evaluates any of these pieces, they look at the student's answers to seemingly innocuous or inconsequential basic biographical information: name, race, religion, parents' education and occupation, etc. As students fill out this seemingly straightforward information, I gently warn them that everything on the application is there for a reason. A student's answers to these questions influence, shape, and sometimes drive how an admissions officer evaluates their application.
Fortunately, The Common Application, the most widely accepted application, has become the de facto leader in ensuring equality and forward-thinking when it comes to what data is captured for colleges. Last week, Common App announced some changes to the 2021-2022 application. As always, these changes will take effect starting August 1, 2021. These changes may appear like minutia or unimportant, but there is more than meets the eye.
Here are the changes, why they are being made, and how this impacts the admissions process:
Change #1: The sex/gender question will be revised to cover gender identity, including adding pronouns and preferred first name options. It will also change the language once used, from "sex" to "legal sex."
Change #2: The question on religious affiliation will be dropped from Common App. Some colleges may choose to add it back into their individual college-specific supplement, however.
Change #3: The geography and citizenship questions will be combined. There will be added choices for undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students. And, the alien registration number question will be removed.
Change #4: The military discharge question will no longer be asked.
Change #5: The question about whether the student violated a school disciplinary rule or honor code will be removed.
Change #6: Parents' birth country question will be dropped. Parents' occupation and employment status will be optional. Siblings' middle initial, relationship, and education will be dropped.
Change #7: The old essay prompt about problem solving will be replaced with a prompt about gratitude.
The truth is that admissions officers are some of the nosiest individuals around. They want as much background information as they can get their hands on when it comes to a student. The changes that Common App made for the coming admissions cycle help to reduce unfair discrimination, bias, or unnecessary influence. There is still a lot of progress that needs to happen in college admissions, but the new Common App changes help to address some of the barriers students face in this process.