Editorial | Detrimental Common App changes
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 08:10
At this year’s National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) annual conference, the Common Application (Common App) unveiled a makeover for its existing system. Among the various changes — which will go into effect Aug. 1, 2013 — two stand out as the most substantial: the elimination of the “topic of your choice” personal essay and the strict enforcement of the personal essay’s 250-500 word range. These changes are purposeless and will only serve as a detriment to both students in the midst of the college application process and college admissions officers.
Reactions to the elimination of the “topic of your choice” option have been mixed. According to The Chronicle of Education, a counselor present at the conference welcomed the change because he felt it “disproportionately served savvy, affluent students who were comfortable writing about their achievements.” Another lamented the loss because it “benefited teenagers who didn’t fit a particular mold.”
Although both arguments have merit, having the option to develop and write an essay on a topic of one’s choosing does not mean that college applicants have to. Those more comfortable writing an essay answering a specific question would still be able to do so. But the choice to write on an open-ended topic should be given to those students who feel that it acts as a better outlet for their creativity and expression of their personality — key factors that college admissions officers look at when considering applicants. The Common App should not have the right to so severely limit the ways in which prospective students present themselves to the universities to which they hope to be admitted.
The strict enforcement of the essay length also merits reconsideration. Admissions officers are bombarded with thousands of essays every application season, so a cap on length — albeit a flexible one — is necessary. Yet, it can be difficult to convey the nuances of your personality in 500 words or less. This also acts as another stricture on creative expression, and displaying an error message if an essay’s word count is just over the limit is completely unnecessary.
While the implications of these changes most directly affect students, college admissions officers will feel them as well. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin wrote in an Oct. 10 blog post on Inside Admissions that one of the most important factors in determining whether or not students are admitted into Tufts is their “fit” in the Tufts community. Admissions officers must ask themselves, “Can I see this person at Tufts? Can I see this person actively contributing to the Tufts community?” The personal essay is often the best tool that an admissions officer can use to gauge the personality, and thus the “fit,” of a student. With limits on how a student can express that to a university, with limits on how they can make themselves stand out among thousands of applicants, an admissions officer’s job only becomes more difficult.
There are only so many ways for college applicants to make their applications stand out from the pile. The “topic of your choice” personal essay and flexible essay length guidelines play key roles in allowing hopeful college students to express their personalities to the best of their abilities. Because of their potential to hinder applicants and inconvenience admissions officers, these changes seem slated to do more harm than good.