Common Application 2011-2012: Updates and Tips

Post By: COYD Staff

common applicationOn April 13, 2011 the Common Application posted a preview of the upcoming year’s Common Application which will become live online on August 1, 2010. To preview the new 2010-2011 Common Application, click here.

This year there are a few big and small changes and additions to the Common App:


1. Language Proficiency: There is a section where you can list your knowledge and proficiency level of different languages.  (Speak, Read, Write, First Language, Spoken at Home)

2. College course transcript: Requests transcript of college courses if they were issued.

3. Extracurricular/Work experience explanation: You only have a few lines to describe your extracurricular activities.

4. Essay questions will be the same as the previous year.



1. 500 Word limit to essay question response.

2. 49 New College and Universities have joined the Common Application (* indicates a public institution):

Caldwell College (NJ)

Carroll University (WI)

Castleton State College*

Centenary College

Christian Brothers University

Christopher Newport University*

Cogswell Polytechnical College

DeSales University

Drury University

Eastern Connecticut State University*

Flagler College

Franklin College Switzerland

Goshen College

Howard University

John Cabot University

John F. Kennedy University

Lipscomb University

Long Island University Brooklyn Campus

Lyndon State College*

Ramapo College of New Jersey*

Rhode Island College*

Rockhurst University

Saint Leo University

Saint Martin’s University

Salisbury University*

Samford University

Seton Hill University

Sierra Nevada College

St. Joseph’s College – Brooklyn Campus

St. Joseph’s College – Long Island Campus

St. Mary’s College of Maryland*

SUNY College at Old Westbury*

SUNY Institute of Technology*

The American University of Paris

The College of Saint Rose

Towson University*

University of Evansville

University of Hartford

University of Kentucky*

University of Michigan – Flint*

University of New Orleans*

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill*

University of North Carolina at Wilmington*

University of Southern California

University of St Andrews*

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

Wartburg College

Wheeling Jesuit University

Whitworth University


3. Tip: How to effectively write a 500-word essay.

In order to most effectively write the 500-word essay, it is important to know why the Common App reverted back to a 250-500 word count on their essay responses. See below for the reasoning from Common App Executive Director Rob Killion and Director of Outreach Scott Anderson:

“To give you some history regarding how we arrived here: After a four year experiment with no maximum essay size, we are simply returning to the practice of the prior 31 years in specifying a 500-word maximum. Our Board of Directors re-instated this maximum word limit at the unanimous recommendation of our counselor advisory committee and our member advisory committee. Both groups indicated that the lack of any guidance regarding a maximum size over the last four years had led to essays that were far too long, less well-written, and, at the end of the day, often skimmed rather than read by admission officers. In addition, the absence of a maximum size proved to be confusing for students — particularly those without access to counseling — who simply did not know when to stop writing.

Any maximum size we might have chosen — 500, 750, 1000 — would have been subject to criticism in some quarters as arbitrary — either too short or too long. Since there is no magic number that would be acceptable to all, we returned to our historic 500-word limit, which allows an applicant approximately two double-spaced pages to express their thoughts and writing skills. Colleges that want longer writing samples can ask for them on their supplements, as many of them already do. Finally, the additional information section/upload remains available for students to use as they wish.”

After reading the reasoning, below are a few tips to most effectively write a 500-word college admissions essay:

  • Be succinct.
  • Be focused.
  • Utilize specific imagery, language, and experiences to most efficiently write your essay: Don’t be vague and confusing.
  • Make every word count.
  • Have a clear take-away: The point of the essay is to show the committee who you are. You only have 500 words so if after those 500 the committee doesn’t know you better (outside of your resume and scores), than those words weren’t used effectively.
  • Have a clear introduction, middle and conclusion.
  • Since the introduction and conclusion are a huge portion of the 500 words, make them count!
  • Introduce only new information: You only have 500 words. Do not repeat your resume, transcript or anything they have already seen on your application.
  • Use efficient words: Don’t use three words when one will do. At the same time, don’t overuse them. Only use words you actually know. 

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