Common App. ups Emerson applicants

by Beacon Staff • February 13, 2008

After Emerson joined a growing number of colleges and universities this year that exclusively use the Common Application for all incoming freshmen, 38 percent more students applied this admission cycle than last.,This year the Emerson admissions office moved to widen its reach into the pool of potential freshmen by exclusively adopting the Common Application, a shift that significantly drove up the number of applicants, admissions staff members said.

After Emerson joined a growing number of colleges and universities this year that exclusively use the Common Application for all incoming freshmen, 38 percent more students applied this admission cycle than last.

"The Common Application is basically an opportunity for us to reach a larger group of students," said Emerson's Assistant Director of Admissions Christopher Zissi in a telephone interview. "This year we have quite a few more applicants."

Ronald Beck, assistant to the director of admissions, said the increased volume-from just over 5,000 applicants for the class of 2011 to 6,900 this year for the class of 2012-has not overburdened the staff.

"One of the advantages of the Common App. was the technology, because it went into the [applicant] database easier," Beck said in a telephone interview.

The approximately 1,900 additional applications were spread evenly across Emerson's various departments, Beck said, with no significant spikes among majors.

Robert Killion, executive director of the non-profit Common Application organization, said by next year 350 colleges will use its format, with only about 50 more institutions eligible to join that haven't already. The organization now boasts 315 members, including notables Harvard, Yale and Northeastern Universities.

"Four hundred [potential] colleges is a lot, but there's still more than 1,500 out there, so I don't know that you can necessarily say we've 'unified' the entire application process," Killion said in an e-mail interview.

Colleges who seek to use the Common App must conform to the organization's mission to evaluate students holistically, according to the organization's Web site.

A holistic approach means admission councilors evaluate applicants without emphasis on standardized test scores or other traditional metrics.

Killion said this philosophy is paramount to the organization's mission.

It results in a smaller number of eligible institutions, but a reduced stress level for high school seniors applying to colleges that accept the common bank of identification information and essay responses.

"I certainly think the Common App., particularly the online Common App., reduces the time necessary to complete the college application process," Killion said.

Freshman Laura Gonzalez, who applied last year with the old Emerson-specific form, said the Common App eased her access to other schools.

But Gonzalez also said she thought a unique application has its merits.

"People wouldn't be applying to so many schools," the digital post-production major said. "I applied to more schools than I anticipated because of the Common App."

Beck said inclusion in the Common Application program is a distinction for Emerson, and that the significant increase of applicants was due in part to this type of high accessibility.

"I believe it was a positive move. I think they provide a technology that is very useful," he said of the digital Common App.

Students who applied in time for this year's Jan. 5 deadline were also for the first time required to submit their Emerson-specific supplement through the Common Application Web site.

The three-page supplement is designed to give admission staff a more detailed and accurate portrait of an applicant, requiring students to declare an intended major and respond to two short answer questions, Beck said.

Also available in the supplement are the optional essay questions for the honors program.

Beck deflected any concern that the Common Application would have a homogenizing effect on the incoming student body, but acknowledged that non-traditional students hailing from portfolio programs or who were home-schooled do not always opt for conventional applications.

"In some ways its one size fits all," Beck said. "There are so many non-traditional schools out there that one form doesn't work for everybody, but it's still a pretty good attempt."

Zissi emphasized that the supplement encourages-but does not require-high school seniors to submit additional material like artwork, writing or relevant work samples.

Dr. Sarah McGinty, director of the Boston-based academic McGinty Consulting Group, said there is no quantifiable trend toward unifying the admission process away from uniquely formatted applications, but that nearly all of her clients use the application one way or another.

"It's been a push-pull thing," said McGinty, a Harvard professor and admissions essay expert who has helped author three books on the application process, and has spent more than two decades in the admissions field.

"The University of Chicago gave up on their unique application and went to the Common App.," she said. "Now, Tufts stepped into that role and has a whole list of distinctive questions."