The Common Application shut down its site from July 12–August 1, 2013 in preparation for the launch of CA4, the newest Common App platform. 

The Common App “hibernates” every summer for a short period of time to upload new information from schools and for basic maintenance, but this past summer, it changed quite a bit. 

Here’s our breakdown of the most important things you should know, and some practical advice on how to take advantage of the new platform.

Major Changes

Probably the most controversial change was announced back in February—the Common App did away with the “write on topic of your own choosing” option for the personal statement. Instead, you’ll have to choose one of five prompts. The new system also enforces word limits: nothing shorter than 250 words nor longer than 650 words will be accepted. 

Other big changes:

  • Only a few questions are shown at any given time, and questions are generated based on your previous answers, so you no longer have to worry about what you do and don’t need to answer. These dynamically-generated questions also include things that were once asked on separate supplemental forms, like college-specific questions, homeschool questions, and athletic recruiting information.
  • The Common App can now only be submitted online. No paper forms are available or accepted. If you don’t have a computer or internet access at your home or school, start exploring your options. Try the local library, internet cafe, your parents’ workplace, or even your friends’ or extended family’s homes.
  • You may submit additional non-academic recommendations (from peers, coaches, clergy, etc.). These do not replace the required teacher recommendations, but they can be extremely helpful to students with significant outside-of-school leadership. Remember, more is not necessarily better. Be strategic and think carefully about what other mentors might be able to write you a recommendation that will complement and fill out the picture of you painted by your teacher recommendations.

New Features

There were also a number of new features launched that make navigating the application and submitting your work easier:

  • A "Help Center" tool appears alongside the questions to help you navigate the application. 
  • Quick, predictive search bars so you don’t have to type in the full name of your high school or the college to which you want to apply. 
  • A new art supplement submission system.
  • The ability to paste or type (with simple formatting options) essays into text fields instead of uploading.

 November 2013 Update

It's no secret that the Common App has caused quite a few students trouble this year. To assist you, here are the most helpful tips we've come across.