The CA4 has new bells and whistles: Some are confusing, but many are great!
It is now about six weeks since the CA4 arrived on the scene, glitches and all. Anyone who has launched a website knows that there are unexpected difficulties that are eventually resolved. However, few websites have thousands of people waiting impatiently and anxiously to use it, and that made a huge difference in the response to the problems inherent in the newly-launched Common App.
The biggest problem was the fact that the “streamlined” manner in which the supplementary essays were supposed to be accessed was not streamlined at all. Most of the supplements did not appear on the “College Page 2” (which is what it was originally called when the CA4 was promoting the changes). However, that has been rectified for the most part, and applicants are now working their way through the new format.
Although some of the criticism and complaints about the CA4 are completely justified, the new application form has some excellent features.
First, the problems: It is not easy to find the complete list of schools and deadlines. However, it can be located by clicking on “Member Colleges” and then on “Application Requirements.” If you want that “big picture,” find and save the file. It might be a good idea to print out one copy for yourself.
Next, listing the colleges to which you are going to apply and then accessing the information about their supplementary questions and essays is a bit unwieldy. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s pretty simple.
The biggest confusion has been over the supplements themselves. Whereas some advisers are calling the supplementary essays “stealth essays,” as if they were hidden and/or easily missed, the point is actually much more positive. Once you fill out the short answer “Questions” for each college, you will find that the “Writing Supplements” are easily accessed. In some cases, the supplementary essays depend on your answers to the questions: What school within the university do you hope to attend? What do you plan to choose as a major? The prompts for the essays are then customized for you. That’s a good thing, not a “stealth” situation!
Another issue has to do with the Help Center. It is easily missed, but it is important to read. Many of the important directions are to the right of the questions. For example, the Activities list is supposed to be ordered from the most important to least important, just as it had been in the past. Also, there are character limits that must be strictly observed.
Also, it is very disconcerting not to be able to do a Print Preview. The Common App instructions say: “You can preview your application when all required questions have been answered and you’re ready to begin the submission process. The preview PDF is generated automatically once you click on the ‘Start Submission’ button. The Common Application is now completely paperless. This means that there is no printable version that you will be able to download and submit to an institution. A “print preview” copy of your application will only become available to you right before submission since it is intended for record-keeping purposes only.”
That’s not very comforting, but it does teach you to be very, very careful as you fill out and proofread your application online.
Overall, however, the application is designed to be more applicant-friendly. Don’t be daunted by the streamlining – Just be informed!