In one of the more game-changing administrative decisions made for 2015-16, the Common Application announced last year that membership would no longer be contingent upon requiring an untimed writing sample—the personal statement, as it is known to many applicants.
Colleges, especially those for which essays mean little in the admissions equation, are now free under revised Common App membership guidelines not to require submission of an essay.
And according to “unofficial” information available from the Common Application, nearly 20 percent of the approximately 600 members will be making this component of the application entirely optional.
In Virginia, Roanoke College and Old Dominion University have indicated they will not be requiring a personal statement. In Maryland, Coppin State University is listed as not including the requirement.
In fact about 125 Common App members may be dropping the personal statement for the coming year, and they are doing this for many different reasons.
“For DePaul, and probably for the vast majority of universities in the nation admitting over 60% of applicants, the high school grade point average, and specifically the GPA in advanced and rigorous classes, tells us almost everything we need to know about a student’s chance for success in college,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management at DePaul University. “When we do have students who struggle in college despite the academic record, it’s never been (in my memory here or at the other four colleges I’ve worked at) something we could have seen in the essay.”
Brenda Poggendorf, Roanoke’s vice president for enrollment management agrees, “My overall view is that a student’s academic record is most important and in most cases a writing sample doesn’t add value to the process—it is an unnecessary barrier. An essay would be helpful to a few applicants and in those cases we will simply ask for it.”
At West Virginia University, the change in membership requirements was one of the attractions for joining the Common Application, along with the possibility of recruiting an even larger and more diverse applicant pool. “We haven’t ever required a personal statement or a recommendation,” commented an admissions representative. “We were happy to be able to join the Common Application because of these changes in the membership requirements.”
Another Common App member put the decision more in terms of competitive position. “If our competitors drop the personal statement and we don’t, we might lose potential applicants.”
Still others are substituting a robust writing supplement for the Common App essay, which they don’t feel has much value as an admissions tool.
And for better or worse, it makes sense to reduce the role of the personal statement in admissions at some colleges.
It’s well known that this particular element of the application is the one most likely to have been tampered with by outsiders. An increasing number of high schools, particularly private schools, require students to write personal statements as part of English class. The essays are graded, corrected, and in some cases “approved” for inclusion in the Common App.
Increasing numbers of applicants invest in essay-writing “boot camps” where topics are developed and writing is perfected. Others receive significant support from parents anxious to help. And still others simply purchase personal statements from nefarious essay “mills” that thrive on the internet.
At the end of the day, admissions offices have good reason to be suspect of the highly-polished writing samples they receive as part of the Common Application. And for students applying to colleges that don’t require or want them, there’s little reason to go to all the bother and/or expense of providing them.
That doesn’t mean admissions offices don’t enjoy reading the essays. And the Common App has made provisions so that if a student has a personal statement to share—regardless of the college requirement—he or she is welcome to include it as part of the application submitted.
“The essay is certainly something that we enjoy looking at, and it does help us get to know the students better; we encourage students to submit anything that they think helps us learn about them,” adds Boeckenstedt. “It’s just that the value of the essay is fairly limited as it’s currently employed.”
In addition to the five institutions listed above, here is a sample of the Common App members NOT requiring a personal statement in 2015-16 (note that this list is unofficial and subject to change):
- Albright College, PA
- Bethany College, WV
- Calvin College, MI
- Christian Brothers University, TN
- College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, MN
- Florida Institute of Technology
- Hampshire College, MA
- Jacksonville University, FL
- Kean University, NJ
- New Jersey Institute of Technology
- Nova Southeastern University, FL
- Oglethorpe University, GA
- Ohio Northern University
- Queens University of Charlotte, NC
- Ripon College, WI
- Siena College, NY
- SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, NY
- The College of St. Rose, NY
- The University of Tampa, FL
- University of Tennessee—Knoxville
- University of Toledo, OH
- Valparaiso University, IN
- Wayne State University, OH
- Wittenberg University, OH