The Common Application’s recent decision to do away with the college essay prompt offering students the chance to write on a topic of their choice is misguided. In highly selective college admissions, college admissions counselors value uniqueness. Restricting what students should write about stands against creativity. And The Common Application didn’t stop with doing away with the topic of your choice Common App. essay. They’ve also made it so that students must cut and paste their essay into the form rather than upload it. That too stymies creativity because uploads made it possible to submit such things as symbols, pictures, photographs, and drawings with essays.
Imposing a precise 500 word limit is absolutely fine, and we have no problem with that. All students are on the same level playing field. But to create obstacles that make it more difficult for a student to express his or her true self does not serve the college admissions process. So why’d they do it, you ask? Likely because big universities like Ohio State University have now joined The Common App. For the University of California schools, as an example, students are required to cut and paste their essay into a box and they are given two very specific essay prompts for two required essays. There is little room for creativity. And why’s that? Because the UC’s get approximately 150,000 applications each year, and so they want to standardize the responses to make the process run smoother. This latest move by The Common App. is in line with the University of California’s approach and the Common App. likely has the same rationale.
We urge The Common App. to reverse its unpopular decision. Let students be who they are. Let them express themselves in the way they know how within the 500 word limit. Just don’t tell them to start sentences with this word and end them with another word. Don’t tell them they need to cut and paste their essay into a box. Don’t tell them they need to write about a book that influenced them, or a significant experience in their life. Give them some credit to think for themselves. Let them shine creatively.