This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master’s-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry’s most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company, http://www.leaprogram.com, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.

The Common Application is a not-for-profit group that offers print and online versions of one college admission application that students can submit to any of the organization’s 488 member institutions.

The Common App is currently undergoing major changes and getting a fresh new look for the 2013-14 admissions season. I recently attended a webinar on the changes and I wanted to highlight those that will have great impact on students.

The Essay.

This pressure-packed word alone can strike fear into the hearts of applicants. I encourage students to look at the essay as an opportunity to set yourself apart from the numbers that define you (GPA, class rank, test scores, etc.). Here’s what’s new for the 2013-14 essay:
Higher (but stricter) word counts. Essays now carry a 250-word minimum and a 650-word maximum, an increase of 500 from last year. Additionally, where in the past students would aim for somewhere around 500 words, the 650-word maximum is now enforced. The essay box will keep a running tally and cut off at the maximum. As a result, word choice and concision will be essential.
New prompts. CA4 is limited to only five prompts. Gone is the “topic of your choosing” option; however, there are a number of great options, which students can craft their essay to fit. Check out the new prompts here.
Copy and paste option. Previously, students crafted their essay in a Word document and uploaded it to the application. Now students can copy and paste their essay, adding bold, italic, or underlining for emphasis. (A note about uploading: In previous versions of the Common App, students could use the upload feature to add their résumé. Now they must copy and paste text versions of their documents while adhering to the strict 650-word limit.)

Activity Essay.

As in years past, the new application lets students list and rank their activities in order of importance. Up until last year, students were then asked to write approximately 250 words describing one of their activities. This is no longer part of the main application shared by all colleges. If a college still desires to have the activity essay, it will now be found on the college’s supplemental application.

Test Scores.

The Common App asks for self-reported scores, however most schools require scores to also be reported directly from the testing agency. In the past, students reported their highest individual scores across ACT, SAT and SAT Subject Tests. You now have the ability to customize which scores are reported to which schools based on that school’s requirements. For example, if a college doesn’t require or recommend SAT Subject Tests, the student would not have to provide that information to all schools.

The 2013-14 Common App will be released on August 1st. In the meantime, get started on those essays!