Editorial: Common Application should reinstate choice for personal essay
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2012 00:10
The decision “was met with gasps” from the audience at the National Association for College Admissions Counselors, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s right: the Common Application will no longer utilize the “topic of your choice” essay option. The change – which will take effect starting next fall and does not affect those high school seniors still applying – is the wrong choice. By removing the application element with the most room for personal expression, creativity and self-representation, colleges are eliminating the component providing the best opportunity for the holistic review that institutions claim to desire. Outcry around the country has generally centered on the same basic idea.
The other sections of the application almost all involve strict numeric or statistical evaluations: grade point average, class rank, SAT scores, course grades and the like. Though at least the Common App is retaining the résumé portion, another application component that allows for a more qualitative rather than quantitative analysis, right? Actually, at the exact same announcement, the Common App announced it will also be eliminating the ability to upload a résumé.
To be clear, the five listed essay topics (one of which must be selected) are not all bad. One asks the applicant to “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” Another asks you to “Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.” A third says “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”
An additional question states “Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.” And the final question asks “Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.”
Still, many students feel that the information or story they most wanted to convey to their dream school is not covered by any of those prompts. Why should prospective applicants be limited to answering one of five choices? And why should college admissions officers be subjected to reading the same types of answers over and over and over again? The Common Application has proved a useful tool for streamlining the application process, with UConn joining last year and 37 new members jumping on board this year, for a grand total of 488. If an individual school wants to opt out of allowing the “topic of your choice” essay option, that should be their right. But for the Common Application to remove it wholesale, when most top schools are now using their service for their applications, is a mistake.