Students react to new app

By Andrew Alexander

News that the U of C plans to switch to the Common Application for undergraduate admission spread quickly across campus last week, with students weighing in ardently on either side of the issue.

“I think it changes the culture of the U of C, and it’s troubling to think that [the administration] is conforming to this new norm,” said fourth-year Roger Fierro, co-chair of the Prospective Student Advisory Committee.

“The Uncommon Application is a very core part of what the U of C is,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being self-selective.”

As of press time, a Facebook group entitled “Save the Uncommon Application” had 1,280 members.

Third-year Luis Lara, the creator of the group, said he didn’t expect so many people to join.

“Obviously this is something people care about,” he said. “[The Uncommon Application] is a tradition worth saving.”

Lara said he and other students were circulating a petition to retain the Uncommon Application and were planning to sell “Save the Uncommon Application” T-shirts next week in the Reynolds Club.

Other students, however, have said the benefits of the Common Application outweigh the loss of Chicago’s quirky questionnaire. First-year Rachel Berkowitz said the switch would increase the visibility of the U of C without lowering standards.

“The essays are still going to be there,” she said. “You have to fill out the exact same [personal information] on the Uncommon Application, so why not just fill it out on the Common Application once for every school? “

Michael Behnke, vice president of College Enrollment, said the Class of 2012 will almost certainly use the Common Application when applying to the U of C next fall.

Barring any last-minute problems, sections of the U of C’s Uncommon Application asking for standard personal information will be replaced with those from the Common Application, Behnke said. The U of C’s famous essay questions will remain as an application supplement.

The administration is still in talks with Common Application officials about the potential switch.

“It’s basically an administrative change,” Behnke said. “As long as we can keep what has historically made us distinct, we’re comfortable using the Common Application.”

The Common Application will “counter our problem of name recognition, and we’ll find more students who are good matches for us,” Behnke said.

President Robert Zimmer provided the impetus for the change, Behnke said. “He’s been asking everybody why they do what they do, and this is one of the things he asked about,” he said.

Calls to Zimmer’s office were redirected to the U of C News Office. An administration official, who requested to remain anonymous because he was not allowed to speak to the press, confirmed that Zimmer had been the driving force behind the change.

Ted O’Neill, dean of Admissions, declined interview requests with the Maroon.

“[The Uncommon Application has] served us well, and I’ll miss it,” Behnke said. “We think it’s outlived its usefulness.”

Although the U of C has always had its own application, the Uncommon Application did not exist until 1998. The name was devised “as a marketing slogan” to help increase enrollment in the College from 3,500 to 4,500, Behnke said.

The Common Application was created in 1975 by a consortium of 15 private colleges and, until it became an independent organization last year, was administered by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Nationwide, 299 colleges and universities currently accept the Common Application, 72 of which accept only the Common Application and do not have their own separate applications.

The number of schools using the Common Application hovered around 115 until the mid-1990s. Since 2000, when less-selective colleges were permitted to use the application, 100 new schools have joined. Many schools require supplementary information as well.

Several top-ranked universities have also recently switched to the Common Application, such as the California Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and the University of Pennsylvania, all of which started using the application this year.