What’s the best order of operations for rising seniors to complete strong and differentiated college applications over the summer before their senior year in high school? In the first of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, we have the answers that will ensure that you don’t waste time or need to back track while giving you the the longest time possible to finalize your college list. If you haven’t yet put together an extracurricular resume for your college applications, start one now using my online course, which will give you the perfect format to start organizing your extracurricular and eventual professional resume.
At its annual “Member Summit” last week in northern Virginia, the Common Application announced the release of a new transfer application specifically designed to accommodate students taking alternate pathways to college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “traditional” students or those enrolling immediately after high school and attending college full time, represent only about 15 percent of the current undergraduate population. The remaining 85 percent, or about 15 million undergrads, includes students who begin their post-secondary careers at two-year colleges or are military and veteran students, adults returning to higher education to complete degrees or certificates, and adults beginning post-secondary education for the first time
Recognizing that these nontraditional students are very different from the teenagers ordinarily associated with the college application process, the Common App for Transfers will provide a “modern interface, an intuitive flow, and a user-friendly portal” for applying to multiple programs with one set of application materials.
“Providing a dynamic and robust application for this important, but under-recognized group of learners will promote inclusiveness and expand educational opportunity for more individuals who are seeking post-secondary education,” said Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of The Common Application.
The new application will be released in collaboration with Liaison International, a leading admissions management and enrollment marketing group with particular experience in graduate admissions management.
“We are excited to be working with Liaison on these initiatives, which will support access both by expanding the student population we serve and by providing our member colleges and universities with the data insights they need to better understand overall enrollment patterns and achieve their goals,” adds Rickard.
According to the Common App, the new transfer application will better serve returning adult students (over the age of 25 and representing 38 percent of undergraduates) and students applying from two-year programs (43 percent of all undergrads), by presenting a more streamlined and simplified application experience, as admission requirements are often different for these applicants.
The new transfer application will be available in early 2018 for an “early adopter” group of 10 to 12 colleges and universities, with a full release set for August 2018. New data analytics tools, which will provide insights about both first-year and transfer applicants, will be available this fall. To support this initiative, the Common App will be convening a Transfer Advisory Committee in early June 2017.
Along with the new Liaison partnership, the Common App recently announced the addition of nearly 40 new members as well as several innovations to the current platform including Google Drive integration, a self-reported transcript, advising and recommender enhancements, and additional Spanish language resources.
“Throughout its history, The Common Application has continuously leveraged technology to evolve from a paper-and-pencil application to an online resource and innovative application center used by more than 3 million prospective students, applicants, and recommenders annually,” said Rickard.
And the new transfer application addresses an important and growing population of students seeking ways to discover and link-up with “best fit” four-year programs.
Your story matters.
During the college admissions process, sharing your story as part of your application provides context and gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself. In the past, this has been accomplished by submitting at least one essay with your college application and at some schools, scheduling a personal interview.
ZeeMee’s smartphone app helps you create a three-part video that can be viewed in a minute or two. It’s free of charge. Students own their content. Privacy settings prevent a student’s video from being searchable. And no special equipment is needed to make the video beyond access to an iOS or Android smart phone.
“Selfie-style is genuine and real,” says Courtney Vaughn, an admissions officer at Elon University in North Carolina. “Don’t hire a professional — keep it casual.”
Vaughn credits the ZeeMee videos with helping her “connect with applicants on a deeper level.” When she can glean additional knowledge about an applicant from their video, she says she will “take that nugget of information to the admissions committee” to advocate for the student.
To be clear, Vaughn says that “the students who are in the middle of the applicant pool at Elon benefit the most” from submitting a ZeeMee video. Providing the additional information, as well as taking the time to show interest and effort, says Vaughn, contributes another positive layer to an application that might need the extra boost.
Other ZeeMee partner schools may also consider a student’s submission to help them create a well-rounded class; or to select among applicants for competitive honors programs or majors. If you are applying to a school that encourages submission of a ZeeMee video or you would otherwise like to create one, here are some additional tips.
There are three parts to a ZeeMee video: your Profile Information, the Video Feed and the Photo Album.
Your Profile Information features a snapshot of you with your name, high school, and graduation year, superimposed on a default image. (Later, you can select the photo you want in the background.)
The Video Feed gives you the opportunity to tell colleges, in your own words, what you want them to know about you. You have the option of recording a brief introduction, for example, and/or speaking about a topic of your choice. Optional question prompts on the Chat tab can help you decide what to share. Some examples of ZeeMee question prompts are Describe your high school and what you like most about it. Or, Who would win, Batman or Spider Man? Or, How would your friends describe you?
These prompts can get you thinking more about how to best showcase your character and values. Are there certain topics that resonate with you? Do you have a compelling anecdote to share? What motivates you; or challenges you; or captivates you? Take some time to think about what you want to say. And if you change your mind and want to delete or rerecord your video, you can!
Videos (whether your own, or responses to prompts) are limited to no more than 26 seconds each — but you can record as many as you like. You’ll make your own decision about how many videos compose your Video Feed; just remember that a shorter one is more likely to be viewed in its entirety, so try to keep your points succinct.
If you are camera-shy, no worries — not only is ZeeMee always optional, there are a variety of ways to tell your story — for example, a teacher, friend or slideshow can serve as your introduction.
Use the Photo Album section to bring your activities to life with images that showcase who you are and what you do. These images can spotlight your athletics, talents, hobbies, projects, skills, jobs, ideas, interests, family, and more! You’ll add captions of up to 5000 characters to describe what is happening in each photo to help the reader get to know you better.
Details and Dimensions
Once you have the basics in place, continue to refine your presentation. Layer your Photo Album with a variety of images to tell your story, not just the ones that show off your accomplishments.
For example, if you have discussed several types of art mediums you enjoy, include photos of each, as opposed to five pictures of your watercolors, even if watercolors are the only ones that have earned you accolades. (Because your whole story includes your efforts with chalk and charcoal, too.)
If you love soccer, five images of yourself scoring goals will be redundant. Consider adding a photo of you working out with your teammates; or of your soccer jersey collection; or of whatever conveys more facets of your story. (After all, your ten-year relationship with soccer surely isn’t primarily about the goals you’ve scored…)
Students with just one or two activities can showcase those activities more deeply. If you do only make drawings in watercolor, for example, feature images that express variety another way, such as subject matter or color choice or even a progression of your art throughout high school, as opposed to five similar watercolors you produced for the same project with the same theme.
Or, if baseball is your thing, include all of the ways you express your passion — sure, you have some great photos of yourself in action as your high school team’s shortstop, but what about all those impromptu neighborhood street games you started in the summer and the trips to your favorite professional team’s stadium and the hours you spend playing catch while chatting with your best friend? Those are part of your story, too.
(Note: If you plan to use photos that feature friends or family, get their permission first.)
Prepare, then Share
If you open your ZeeMee account early in high school, you can upload possible content to your Photo Album as soon as you want. Later, when you are ready to put your video together for college applications, you can select the best photos, add captions and record your video responses.
To share your finished ZeeMee video with colleges, you’ll paste your video link on your applications ‘s ZeeMee field for partner schools. For other schools, you can add the link to the Additional Information or Anything Else You Want to Share section. Other options for sharing your ZeeMee video with colleges include adding it to your resume; mentioning it in a thank you note to the college; or emailing it to your regional admissions rep. Also consider providing your ZeeMee link to your school counselor and anyone who will be writing you a letter of recommendation — it can help them get to know you better, too!
Short and Sweet
The last tip is to make every second of your ZeeMee video count by targeting the things that are most important to your story; be thoughtful about every image, caption or video you include. And again, welcoming the viewer to your world from a more informal, homey, casual perspective will help you connect more authentically with your application reader. Think: heart and soul, not perfect and polished.
Will a well-done ZeeMee video alone get you admitted to a school? No, but it won’t hurt, and could help boost a borderline candidate’s admissibility or increase the odds for selection to a more competitive program.
It will also be good practice — it is highly probable that this college admissions video will be just one of many personal digital portfolios our technology savvy Snapchat Generation will create during their lives. In today’s world, says ZeeMee director Ethan Lin, “a digital identity is no longer an option.” Lin points out that students already have a professional side that their activities and academics and experiences all speak to; with ZeeMee, they can showcase their story in an easy-to-use smartphone app where they are in control of what they share.
While far and away the most popular and frequently-used online college application platform, serving more than three million students, parents, counselors and teachers, the Common App recently announced a series of “enhancements” that appear to directly respond to features introduced this year by the Coalition Application, proving that competition isn’t always a bad thing.
According to a statement from the Common App, “Many of the changes for next year’s application stem from the feedback we receive from the admissions, high school, and CBO counselors on our applications and outreach advisory committees and from the suggestions of the students and counselors who have used our platform.”
And it seems that some of the feedback the Common App has been receiving suggests the Coalition might be coming up with ideas that benefit the industry as a whole. It’s evident that the Common App is taking the opportunity to look at what might be working to support their stakeholders—colleges, students, and counselors—and “go one better.”
So regardless of where you come down on the confusion caused by having multiple college application platforms, the one undeniable benefit is that competition encourages innovation.
Here are some of the new features recently announced by the Common Application (don’t be surprised if a few sound a little familiar):
Google Drive Integration: Students will now be able to easily access and upload documents, resumes, and school assignments while completing the Common App and college-specific sections of the application. Recognizing that many school districts have adopted Google Docs and Google Drive to enable their students and teachers to create, collaborate, and access shared documents from any internet connected device, the Common App is introducing a feature that looks remarkably similar to the much-maligned Coalition Student Locker, only possibly more efficient. Some students do not have personal computers at home but use Google Drive on school or library computers to store documents. And by using systems students are already using, the Common App is certainly making the process more accessible. But the Coalition’s Student Locker also supports video, pictures and other multimedia files (not just documents), so the jury may still be out on which enhancement has the greatest general usefulness.
CBO, Advising, and Recommender Enhancements: Students receiving support from advising and community-based organizations will be able to work with those counselors just as they work with their school-based counselors and teachers within the application. These individuals will then be able to manage caseloads and view student progress within the Common App system. In addition, any student who wishes to do so will be able to share a view of their in-progress application with their school counselor, CBO counselor, or other advisor. Again, the Coalition pioneered this kind of application management capability, which supports schools and counselors without Naviance or other similar systems.
Courses & Grades: At times, students are required to submit self-reported high school academic records when applying to some colleges and universities. With Courses & Grades, students will be able to self-report transcript information as part of their Common Application, just as they are currently able to do on the Coalition Application. By integrating the Courses & Grades section into the Common App, students who are already sending this information will be able to complete and submit it with their Common App, making the process of self-reporting transcripts more standardized and streamlined for students, counselors, and colleges. Courses & Grades will launch in limited release on August 1, 2017.
Spanish Language Resources: Key information for using the Common App will be translated so that students, parents, and other family members who speak Spanish as their first language can better understand the college admission process, including applying for financial aid and receiving virtual mentoring. This new tool will also benefit counselors who will be working with these families and need Common App materials in Spanish. This is one enhancement that will be of enormous benefit to some families and is truly unique to the Common App.
The Common Application recently announced the addition of 38 new members to a roster of what will be over 740 colleges and universities accepting the Common App for 2017-18. The popular online platform and college planning website currently serves and supports over three million students, teachers and counselors in the U.S. and around the world every year. And with the addition of several large public institutions including Appalachian State University, Kent State University, as well as the Universities of Houston, Oregon, Nevada, Missouri and Wyoming, these numbers are bound to increase significantly.
“Our new members represent the best in geographic and institutional diversity. Together, they offer unique experiences for our applicants, one-third of whom are the first in their families to go to college, while also sharing our mission of access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process,” said Jenny Rickard, The Common Application President & CEO. “We are excited and honored to welcome these colleges and universities into our membership.”
Membership in the Common Application is open to colleges sharing the organizations mission of advancing college access and must be
- Undergraduate degree-granting
- Accredited by a regional accrediting association (if inside the U.S.)
- A member of the Council of International Schools (if outside the U.S.)
- Committed to the pursuit of equity and integrity in the college admission process
Members are no longer required to be members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The requirement to evaluate students using a “holistic” selection process including a recommendation and an untimed writing sample (essay) has also been dropped to accommodate a wider variety of member institutions.
As a result, the Common App membership for 2016-17 included
- Colleges from 48 states plus Washington, DC
- More than 250 colleges with no application fee
- 100+ public universities
- 44 international universities from 4 countries
- 9 Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
- More than 200 test-optional/test-flexible institutions
But the Common App isn’t the only online application from which students can choose. This year, the Universal College Application (UCA) was welcomed by 34 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell University, Princeton, Vanderbilt and the University of Chicago. The Cappex Application, with its promise of no application fees and no supplemental essays, was accepted by 67 institutions including Beloit, Cornell College, Florida Southern, Ohio Wesleyan, Queens University of Charlotte, and the Universities of Tampa, and Dayton. And 47 out of 95 Coalition members finally launched applications during 2016-17 (it is expected that all will be online by next summer). With new membership guidelines in place effective January 1, the Coalition expects to add more colleges for 2017-18. So far, new members include Arizona State University, Bucknell University, Case Western Reserve University, Elon University, Rutgers University—Newark, University of Arizona, University of Kentucky, University of Delaware and University of New Mexico. By May 1, the Coalition plans to make a final announcement of all members for the upcoming cycle.
In the meantime, the following colleges and universities will be offering the Common Application for 2017-18:
Anderson University (IN)
Appalachian State University (NC)
Art Academy of Cincinnati (OH)
Barton College (NC)
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar
Catawba College (NC)
Cleveland State University (OH)
Defiance College (OH)
Dominican College (NY)
Duke Kunshan University (China)
East Carolina University (NC)
Eastern Mennonite University (VA)
Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ)
Hellenic College (MA)
Kent State University (OH)
Lincoln Memorial University (TN)
Marshall University (WV)
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Monash University (Australia)
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN)
Southern California Institute of Architecture
Trine University (IN)
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain)
University College Dublin (Ireland)
University of Houston (TX)
University of Minnesota, Morris (MN)
University of Missouri (MO)
University of Missouri—Kansas City (MO)
University of Missouri—St. Louis (MO)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas (NV)
University of Northern Colorado (CO)
University of Oregon (OR)
University of the West (CA)
University of Wyoming (WY)
Vermont Technical College (VT)
Western Michigan University (MI)
Wheaton College (IL)
York College (PA)
This is the first in a series of two articles. Come back tomorrow for a review of the Common App’s new features for 2017-18.
Every year students ask me the same question:
“How long should my Common Application essay be?”
I am never shy about providing them with the response that best summarizes how they need to approach both the Common Application essay and the Common Application in general:
“Go Big or Go Home!”
Despite what the official directions on the Common App indicate, students writing a 250-word essay – the lowest end of the range that is officially acceptable to complete this essay – have a far lower chance of convincing college admissions officers of their admissions-worthiness than students who believe in the maxim, ‘bigger is better.” The official upper limit in acceptable length on the Common App essay is 650 words.
A well-thought out and well-developed essay of any true substance is not only not possible in 250 words, it’s barely possible in 450 words. This is why none of our clients have ever submitted a Common App essay consisting of fewer than 450 words. With that said, the true sweet spot in Common Application essay writing, for this current year’s prompts and prompts going back over a decade, is 500 to 650 words. This was even the case a few years ago when the Common App limited students to a mere 500 words. That experiment lasted for such a short time because colleges were getting such transparently superficial essays that they were a waste of time and effort for students and completely lacking any valuable insight helpful to college admissions officers.
Think of a 500- to 650-word essay as a smooth and enjoyable flight from D.C. to Disney World. In 500 to 650 words students have the space they need to achieve proper cruising altitude: writing a strong introductory paragraph that both grabs readers’ attention and clearly states the essay’s thesis. Next, just as one wants to have an enjoyable in-flight experience with the fasten seatbelt sight off and flight attendants passing out drinks and snacks, so to does a 500- to 650-word essay allow readers to relax a bit. In 500 to 650 words students are able to produce non-rushed, non-turbulent, highly valuable descriptive and specific body paragraphs that go a long way toward proving the essay’s thesis. Finally, landing a plane takes great skill, as does writing a conclusion to a college application essay. It’s not a simple rehash of the lift off (thesis); it should be complementary to it. Students who have 500 to 650 words to work with are able to smoothly touch down in a way that puts the cherry on top of the entire flying/essay reading experience. At the end of the day, admissions officers read your essays because they want to fly the friendly skies with you into your world. 500 to 600 words allows you to give them a proper flying experience and gives you the words necessary to differentiate your world from the world of other applicants.
In order to produce a great final draft essay, your rough drafts should be even longer than 650 words. It’s very common for our clients to create first, second, and third draft essays of nearly 1,000 words. Only through consistent and high quality editing can any essay be ready for submission to colleges and universities, and starting with too few words on initial drafts is a recipe for a puny little final draft essay.
So, the big take-away ideas on the Common App Essay are these:
- Don’t do the minimum because you are officially allowed to do the minimum
- Go big or go home – your final draft should be 500 to 650 words and your first draft should be even longer
- In your final draft, ensure that paragraph transitions are smooth – just as a good pilot and great weather conditions allow a flight to be smooth from lift-off to landing
So, what are you going to be writing about on this year’s Common App? None of the essay prompts are easy, and all require a great deal of time, thought, and drafting before members of the Class of 2020 can confidently hit submit on their applications.
Honestly, I miss the old questions that existed through the 2016-2107 iteration of the Common App. The current questions, which have existed since the 2017-2018 Common App, indicate that the people behind the Common App are less and less interested in reading essays from normal teenagers and more and more interested in pushing teens to appear exceptional, idiosyncratic, or downright eccentric for the purpose of entertaining application readers and putting on a show of some sort of diversity. I would be surprised if many of the admissions officers could portray themselves accurately with these prompts. Yet, this is what students in the Class of 20202 who will apply to Common App colleges and universities have to work this admissions cycle, so they better start brainstorming now.
The 2019-2020 Common Application essay prompts are as follows:
Choose the option below that best helps you write an essay of no more than 650 words.
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Are you ready to start drafting? If you are a member of the Class of 2020, your time to start drafting is now! You should aim to wrap up your Common App essay no later than early August, which will give you plenty of time to draft and perfect your essays for Common Application supplements.
Remember, if you want or need help with any part of your essay brainstorming and drafting, I’m here to help you.
With feedback provided by 108 member colleges and more than 5,000 other “constituents,” the Common Application has announced essay prompts for 2017-2018. And the big news is that the Common App brought back ‘topic of your choice’ from a three-year hiatus during which both the Universal College Application and the new Coalition application allowed students the flexibility to write on topics of their own choosing.
This is no small concession, as the Common App invested significant energy defending their decision to do away with the ‘topic of your choice.’ According to the blog post announcing the new prompts, the Common App was “gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective.” And five of the seven prompts are either unchanged or edited versions of the 2016-17 questions.
Of the two new prompts, one asks students to “share examples of their intellectual curiosity.” The other allows students to be more creative by using an essay they’ve already written or one that responds to a different prompt or one that they design—in other words, for this prompt you may write what you want but keep it to within 650 words.
Beginning with the 2016-17 application cycle, Common App members had the choice of whether or not to require a personal statement as part of the application for admission. And out of nearly 700 members, 195, or about a third, elected to drop the standardized writing requirement as not particularly useful in the college admissions process. Others secretly confess that they either scan or totally skip the personal statement in their evaluations.
But still, the cottage industry that has sprung up around these essays continues to grow and flourish.
All that aside, here are the seven questions from which applicants using the Common App will be asked to choose to form the basis of a personal statement (new language appears in italics):
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
The announcement of essay prompts inevitably signals the start of a new year. College-bound juniors along with those who advise them can look forward to the challenge of coming up with personal statements that add dimension to other information provided in the body of the application.
And they have months to think it over before the Common App comes on line.
Note that the Coalition application announced 2017-18 prompts a couple of weeks ago.
In a recent email to the nearly 700 institutional members of the Common Application, Jenny Rickard, the organization’s executive director, characterized the claims contained in the ongoing lawsuit with CollegeNet as “frivolous.” While seeking to assure members, who are currently being approached to renew contracts for next year, of the Common App’s financial security, she suggested that the “millions” spent on the lawsuit might be better spent in other ways—“to innovate and expand.”
To update the membership, Rickard outlined a timeline of “relevant events” related to the case:
- May 2014: CollegeNET files lawsuit against the Common Application alleging antitrust violations.
- November 2014: District court dismisses original 103-page complaint for failure to comply with the federal rules. The court allows CollegeNET to re-file.
- May 2015: District Court dismisses CollegeNET’s complaint on the merits. The court finds that CollegeNET failed to allege antitrust injury.
- September 2015: The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Sccess announces its choice to work with CollegeNET to develop an online undergraduate application for admission for its member schools.
- December 2015: CollegeNET files its opening brief to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
- April 2015: CollegeNET rsponds to the Common Application’s opposition brief (briefing cycle complete).
- 2016-2017: appellate court to determine date for oral argument and list of judges to preside over hearing.
- 2017-2018: Appellate Court to issue ruling.
In the meantime, both the Common App and CollegeNET are continuing to make serious financial investments in their respective application platforms to earn what has grown to be a multi-million dollar online college application business increasingly dependent on innovation and customer service.
Toward this end, the Common App recently announced the launch of a “strategic planning process” to outline a “long-term roadmap” for the organization. While asking for input on topics such as gender identity, criminal history and school discipline, the Common App has indicated that plans are taking shape to make adjustments for the coming year, including the “limited release” of a new feature allowing “students to self-report transcript information.”
At the same time, the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which uses CollegeNET as its technology developer, has loosened membership requirements and plans to grow by as much as 30% over the coming year. And through ongoing improvements and enhancements to its technology, the Coalition pledges to continue supporting the “individual and unique admissions processes” of member institutions.
With limited budgets and increased reliance on enrollment management technology, colleges are looking for application platforms that are reliable, responsive, and state-of-the-art. And whichever product can help colleges craft incoming classes in the most efficient and least expensive way possible is likely to earn the business, regardless of how the lawsuit comes out.
One of the more puzzling stories complicating relations between the Common Application and the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is the ongoing lawsuit between CollegeNET, the Coalition’s technology developer, and the Common App, the industry’s largest and most powerful online college application provider.
And this isn’t a new development. CollegeNET first filed its antitrust lawsuit against the Common Application in May of 2014—long before the Coalition was organized and launched. But for whatever reason, the lawsuit only received cursory coverage in in the education press and many in the admissions industry, including decision-makers at the college level, are not particularly aware of its status.
The short version of the story is that CollegeNET alleges that it lost more than 200 customers in the last 10 to 15 years because of “anticompetitive and exclusionary conduct,” on the part of the Common Application, which used to charge far cheaper rates to colleges that used its application exclusively, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. While the Common Application has discontinued that practice, CollegeNET in its appeals claims the Common App used various tactics to “monopolize the market” and exclude competitors.
In an email to The Chronicle, Jim Wolfston, CollegeNET’s founder and chief executive, outlined changes he hoped would result from the lawsuit. One is the elimination of the Common App’s “equal treatment” requirement, under which members agree to promote all applications equally in communications and on websites, and charge the same fee for each.
“We think admissions officers ought to be able to state their preferences clearly,” Wolfston told The Chronicle, “and that vendors should earn market position on quality and innovation.”
So far, judges have dismissed the case twice but an appeal filed in May of 2015 is currently making its way through the courts.
In an effort to update Common App community on the status of the litigation, Jenny Rickard, executive director of the Common Application, recently sent an email outlining “relevant events” related to the case and shared her perspective on its impact on the organization.
“We view CollegeNET’s claims, and continued appeal, as an attempt to misuse the antitrust laws to override the normal give and take of competition,” writes Rickard. “Complete dismissal of antitrust claims is relatively rare, and the court’s ruling in this case reflects the baselessness of CollegeNET’s claims.”
She goes on to assure members that while the Common App is in a “sound financial position” and has the resources to defend the organization, “we would prefer to spend our members’ fees continuing to innovate and expand our outreach and access programs in support of our mission.”
To date, the nonprofit Common Application has spent “several million dollars” defending against what Rickard characterizes as “frivolous claims by a for-profit, privately-held company”—a company with a deep association with the Coalition.
While the Common App continues to expand and reports growth suggesting increased earnings, the topic of finances and the impact of the lawsuit were addressed at the member conference last spring. And the most recent publicly-available tax statement shows that the Common App reported a loss of over $2.7 million, in the fiscal year ending June 2014. Since this filing, the Common App has brought a large technical staff in-house (no longer subcontracting with Hobsons) and purchased condo space to house them.
According to Rickard, the lawsuit continues with oral arguments and a final ruling expected sometime between 2017 and 2018. And it appears that expenses related to the lawsuit won’t be going away anytime soon.
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009.
College-specific supplemental short answers and essays are either very important or extremely important to your chances of admission. In tonight’s College Counseling Tonight podcast, learn more about the relative importance of college application supplements depending on whether you are completing them for Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision consideration.