The newest version of the Common Application, which will debut this August for the High School Class of 2014, will include some changes. The proposed changes that were giving some counselors the most angst were the changes to the common app essay. Today, those folks can rest easier as the changes are not drastic and still allow flexibility.
In the ten plus years that I have been involved in college admissions, the essay for the common application has already undergone changes. This last change, in my opinion, is to pull the pendulum back a little.
When I began, the essay was something that the student had to copy and paste into the designated area. Your essay would get cut off after 500 words. It also lost its formatting and became very generic looking.
The next change allowed students to upload their common app essay and that kept the original formatting—good. The not so good was that the essay still called for 250-500 words, but since this was uploaded there was no real cut off. My rule of thumb for students was that they could go over by 10%. Beyond that was pushing it unless you wrote the most compelling essay that no one would be able to put it down. Very few students are able to write such a compelling essay and even great writers benefit from judicious editing. I had students who wrote 800-900 word essays. I required them to shorten the essay. The application readers have too much to read and an essay that takes too long to get to the point or the finish may end up unread or partially read and abandoned.
Today the Common Application announced that the changes will require the student to cut and paste, so there goes the formatting. But the word limit has some flexibility. Rather than go on forever or have a strict 500 word limit, it will be a 650 word limit. My advice for students will be to aim for 500 words but at least if they go over by a little, there is still wiggle room.
The other essay issue that was the bigger cause of concern among some folks was the change in essay topics. Now the new topics have been announced to the admissions community and there are nice choices and nothing to worry about.