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Articles / Applying to College / Common App 2021 Opens August 1st

July 28, 2021

Common App 2021 Opens August 1st

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Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

What's New on the Common Application for 2021-2022?

New Member Schools, an Essay Prompt That Could Make You Happier, and More

The Common App for the 2021-2021 application cycle opens on August 1, 2021, and there are  few changes this year. The changes fall in one of seven broad categories below. Click one or read on for a more detailed breakdown of the changes in each of these sections.

Biggest Changes to the Common App in 2021

  1. 64 new member colleges and universities now accept the App
  2. Gender questions are revised to better represent applicants
  3. Changes to the citizenship questions to reduce access barriers
  4. A new personal statement prompt strives to bring joy to the application process
  5. Optional COVID-19 section will stay for another year

64 New Schools Join the Common App

All Illinois public universities will now accept the Common App

The Common App has announced that 64 new colleges and universities have become members, and will begin accepting the Common Application for the 2021-2022 admissions year.

These schools include all the public universities in Illinois who were not already using the Common App. As part of a state initiative to increase access to college, Illinois has become the first state in the country to require its public four-year colleges to use the Common App. 

Illinois State University Director of Admissions Jeff Mavros commented, "Allowing students to apply with the Common App will make our institution even more accessible to students in Illinois, the Midwest, and nationally on a platform that is well recognized and provides access and convenience for prospective students." 

Other notable schools to become new members of the Common App include:

Dr. Amy Hutton, ‎Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management at The University of Alabama commented,

"UA is known for providing a simple and straightforward application for admission, and joining the Common App provides another method of accessibility for students who are ready to become leaders, innovators and legends.”

A full list of new Common App schools will be released on August 1st, 2021, when the Common App opens. Review a list of new member schools by name, region, or state and complete list of all of the 921 Common App member colleges..

Revised Questions About Gender Identity

Common App responds to need for more inclusive gender options

In 2016, the Common App added a text box where students could choose to explain their gender identities. In the 2020-2021 application cycle, more than 69,000 students (out of over a million who filled out the App) used that box to clarify some aspect of their identity. Seeing the numbers of students who used this box, Common App decided to revise their gender-related questions to better represent all students filling out the application, including transgender and non-binary students.

Jenny Rickard, president and chief executive officer of Common App says, "These shifts represent the next step in an ongoing effort to create an equitable, just, and inclusive application for all students - no matter how they choose to identify." 

On the 2021-2022 Common Applications, students can now:

  • Share their preferred first name.
  • Select multiple pronouns or add a new one.
  • Report their “legal sex” instead of “sex” 

Changes to Citizenship Questions

The Evolving the App projects reveals a need to changes in questions for undocumented/DACA and international students

Changes to Citizenship Questions

As part of the Evolving the App project to ensure that the Common App questions do not create barriers to college access, The Common App conducted user testing with undocumented/DACA students and international students. The students we asked to run through several version of the app ensure that all questions about citizen status, geography, and family are clear, represent the full range of options for these students, and do not create barriers to college. Member schools were also invited to give feedback.

According to the Common App blog,

“Undocumented students, in particular, face unique and often devastating obstacles to postsecondary education. The logistical challenges of the application and enrollment process often lead to feelings of anxiety and isolation that keep undocumented students from persisting in college, if they are admitted at all. Common App data suggest that application questions about students’ citizenship status, geography, and family background suppress college-going aspiration among undocumented students.”

In the 2021-2022 application season, the Common App for both first-year and transfer students will:

  • Replace the “Other (non-U.S.)” Citizenship response with two separate options, one for international students and one for undocumented/DACA students
  • Remove or make optional all Geography questions
  • Remove questions about parents and siblings 
  • Make optional all questions related to parent occupation and education
  • Place the questions about Birth Country, City of Birth, Years Lived in the U.S., and Citizenship all on the same page in the Geography and Nationality section. 
  • Make the City of Birth question optional
  • Make Parent Address optional
  • Break down the question, “If you intend to apply for a new or different U.S. Visa, please indicate that visa type,” into two separate questions.
  • Remove the “U.S. domestic or residing,” option

Changes to Common App Essay Prompts

The New Common App Prompt Might Just Make You Happier

The Common App essay prompts for 2021-2022 similar to last year’s prompt, but there are two notable changes. First, the prompt on problem solving, which was not very popular, will be retired. In its place, a new prompt about gratitude and kindness will be introduced. 

The new essay prompt on the Common App is: 

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

The new Common App prompt was created by a team of students, psychologists, and counselors, and was motivated by compelling research that shows that writing about gratitude and kindness can have a positive impact on people's lives. Around 72 percent of 13 to 19 years old say they have struggled with their mental health since the onset of COVID-19 in Spring 2020.

According to Common App President and CEO, Jenny Rickard, the committee made a conscious choice to include a new prompt about gratitude knowing the topic could inspire joy for both applicants and essay readers.

“During these difficult times, it will be encouraging for students and those reviewing these essay responses to be reminded of the joy and hope that generosity and gratitude can foster,” says Sacha Thieme, Assistant Vice Provost & Executive Director of Admissions, Indiana University

List of Common App Essay Prompts 2021-2022.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Optional COVID-19 Section

For the second year, students will have the option to explain how COVID-19 or a natural disaster impacted their experience.

Students are provide a place to share if these events resulted in:

  • Death or Illness within your family or support network
  • Change or loss of employment or housing within your family 
  • Food insecurity
  • Changes in mental and emotional health
  • New obligations, like part-time work or caring family members
  • Access to a computer or internet
  • Ability to find a safe, quiet space to do school work
  • A change in career goals or desired major

Planning to Use the Common App?

Browse a list of the new Common App members by name, state, and region.

Keep reading for more information on the Common Application or see what people are saying the CC Common and Coalition App Forums.

Written by

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen is College Confidential's Senior Editor and Head of Content. She is a graduate of Kenyon College, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She also earned a master’s in Psychology from The New School for Social Research in NYC.

Before becoming a full-time writer and editor, Joy coached thousands of prospective and enrolled college students on admissions and academic and career success. She also managed a team of academic and career coaches and consulted with universities on how to create programs that have better outcomes for students.

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