Common App Changes for 2020-21

August 3, 2020

As the higher education community waited with bated breath for the annual Common App launch party on August 1st, rumors flew about what revolutionary changes to the popular application platform might shock the world in the coming days. Some of the most hardcore fans spent days glued to their laptops, clicking refresh repeatedly on the website, obsessed with being the first to get a glimpse of this once-in-a-lifetime reveal. Others physically lined up outside of a nondescript office complex in Arlington, Virginia where the Common App is headquartered, hoping to squeeze inside information out of interns returning from their coffee runs. Social distancing and mask requirements were duly observed.

Okay, maybe the hype was a bit more muted than the above description. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that guidance counselors and those they counsel—namely, rising college-bound seniors—have a mild curiosity as to how the Common App has changed from previous years. As luck would have it, the details of those updates and upgrades are already known to the public.

The list of notable changes include…

New Member Colleges

There were 42 additions to the ever-growing list of Common App member institutions. Among the most prominent new members are:

  • Auburn University
  • Clemson University
  • Loyola University Chicago
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of Georgia
  • Virginia Tech

COVID-19 Prompt Added to 2019-20 Common App

In an acknowledgement that the Class of 2021 has universally been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, the Common Application, which is used by over one million students each year to apply to one of 900+ member institutions, announced an addition to next year’s application. In fact, there are two additions:

1) A 250-word optional question for applicants

2) A 500-word question for guidance counselors

The new prompt, which appears in the Additional Information section of the Common App reads as follows:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

The response length will be limited to 250 words and does not eat into the 650 words allotted for any other entry to the Additional Information section. The application with also feature an FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including:

  • Illness and loss
  • Housing and employment disruptions
  • Shifting family obligations

For tips on whether/how to answer this new prompt, revisit our blog entitled How to Answer the COVID-19 Question on the Common App.

Common App Essay Prompts Remain the Same

The essay prompts used during the previous 2019-20 admissions cycle have not changed one iota. The list of prompts themselves, advice for selecting the best prompt for you, brainstorming, and ultimately writing your masterpiece can be found here.

User Experience Upgrades in the 2020-21 Common App

Changes to application include the following:

  • Hispanic or Latino will change to “Latino/a/x.”
  • You will have the ability to indicate proficiency in more than one “Other” language.
  • Multiple changes to first-year recommender system including a to-do list with upcoming recommendations that are due, a guided walk-through tutorial, and the ability to upload more than one file per question.
  • In the Activities Section, you can now enter the “Organization name” and “Position or Leadership description” in two separate boxes.
  • Students can now search FAQs from within the application.

Get a Head Start on Your Common App

For soon-to-be applicants, particularly those applying in the early cycle, the heat and pressure of admissions season will be here before you know it. Utilizing the final months of summer to familiarize yourself with the Common App platform and begin work on the essay portion of the application as well as the Activities Section is a good idea. Happy exploring!