November 14, 2006

Easily applying the Uncommon way

At first glance, it seems blasphemous for the U of C to even contemplate switching to the Common Application. Admissions has clearly prided itself on the statement the Uncommon sends to students, telling them that the U of C isn’t like other colleges. But if there is a way to differentiate the U of C—particularly by continuing to provide the quirkiest application essays—while making the application process easier for prospective students, then the University should do it. Put simply, the U of C should use the Common Application for basic (common) information in the undergraduate admission process, but maintain the unique aspects of the Uncommon Application by requiring its own delightfully uncommon supplemental essays.

University administrators are considering a switch to the Common Application, which is used by nearly 300 colleges across the country. Such a move would signify a dramatic change in how the admissions office regards the application process; the current “Uncommon Application” was designed largely in opposition to the Common Application.

Using the Common Application will vastly increase and diversify the College applicant pool. Today, many excellent students in challenging economic circumstances lack the proper resources—or at the very least, perceive a lack of resources—to seek out and submit the Uncommon Application. Switching to the Common App might make the University more accessible to these students in particular, allowing them to apply to the U of C while also investigating other options.

In addition, using the Common Application will lighten the load on all high school seniors. Students already struggling to manage their academic and extracurricular obligations will be more likely to apply to the U of C if they can submit the same basic, initial form that is accepted elsewhere. Indeed, the University is now alone among peer institutions in refusing the Common App. The last holdovers—Brown University, Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the University of Pennsylvania—have all dropped their restrictions on the generic application.

Using the Common Application will help the U of C further improve its college ranking, as an increased applicant pool will increase its selectivity rating as well.

Though the U of C should accept the Common Application, it should make sure to maintain and incorporate the best aspects of the Uncommon Application. The admissions office should still ask students to answer its creative and idiosyncratic essay questions, including them in a required supplemental form. Many colleges allow prospective students to use the Common Application to submit mundane information like their name, address, and birthday, while demanding they also fill out another application specific to the school. The U of C should follow suit. Although busy students should be relieved from filling out the same information on a form specific to Chicago, they should still understand and engage with the unique character of our school, which undoubtedly sets it apart. Part of the genius of the Uncommon Application is that it attracts a special type of student. The University can still appeal to this student by requiring answers to “Uncommon Questions” in addition to the basic information managed by the Common Application.

While the U of C should change the form of its undergraduate application by accepting the Common Application, it should continue to require a clever supplement that preserves the great independent tradition of the University.