A Call for a Change to the Common Application

Change to Common App, Common Application Change, Changes to Common Application

Today, we call for a simple change to the Common Application. And while usually our calls are heard, this one we know will fall on deaf ears. We’ll explain why.

We’ve written about this quite a bit over the years. In fact, we wrote about it just yesterday. But maybe it’s deserving of its own blog entirely because we want to see change happen. May this post serve as a call to the Common Application to make a change to their application. It’s not a big change. It’s a small one. But as folks like the authors of “Freakonomics” taught the world, small changes can have big consequences. This particular small change we refer to is one that would, in one fell swoop, make the college admissions process more fair for all. The only thing is — we know this change won’t be implemented. Not a chance.

There’s all this talk about how the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success seeks to reinvent the college admissions process, to make it more egalitarian. We’ve offered our unfiltered thoughts on the Coalition’s efforts in the past, including pointing out how their proposals will achieve just the opposite — they’ll make the admissions process less fair, further disadvantaging low-income and minority college applicants. Earlier this year, Harvard also published a many page report on how to “turn the tide” in college admissions and make the process better. But, again, this report proposed nothing revelatory, offering little to no worthwhile insight into how to make the process fairer for all.

Sometimes the best ideas come from an idea that can be summarized in one sentence rather than one hundred paged reports. And we feel strongly that’s indeed the case here.

So what would make the process more fair for all? What would that simple change be? Delete the question on the Common Application asking students to say whether they’re applying for financial aid or not. An admissions officer debating a student’s case for admission should not be influenced by this answer. And even if admissions officers suggest they aren’t influenced by this answer, we call malarkey, to quote our often quite candid Vice President Joe Biden. Instead, this answer should be on a separate document that admissions officers aren’t privy to until after students’ admissions fates have been decided. Because no matter how often, or how loudly, colleges may tout being need-blind, the fact of the matter is that in almost every single case, they aren’t. We’ve been outspoken on this issue for many years.

Which leads us to why we suspect the Common Application won’t take us up on our call for change, in spite of the simplicity of our proposal. If colleges admitted a class in which everyone needed financial aid — which is, to an extent, a risk when you don’t take ability to pay into account when deciding on students’ case for admission — colleges would need to dip into their endowments and many could, in turn, go broke.

So our famous crystal ball, one quoted on the pages of America’s oldest college newspaper, “The Dartmouth,” predicts this simple change will never happen. But it should. And we’d love for folks to question colleges why they can’t make this simple change because it’ll certainly put them in the hot seat.


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