R.I.P "Uncommon Application"

As much as I like the Common Application for the convenience it provides to students, I’m sorry to hear that the University of Chicago is planning to abandon it’s famous (or infamous) “Uncommon Application” in order to go to the CA. U of C has always stood out for its use of its own application with its peculiar questions, many submitted by previous applicants. The questions like “What do you think about Wednesdays?” were quirky and convoluted enough to challenge the brains of U of C applicants in ways that most blander questions (including those on the CA) never have, and as a result they often stopped prospective applicants dead in their tracks. My students would sometimes say, “I’d apply to the U of C but I don’t want to answer those questions!”
This situation actually worked well for the University: They didn’t want anyone who didn’t want to answer those questions. As a result, many students would select themselves out and U of C was left with applicants who were willing to indulge in the brain exercises required to do well there. Unfortunately, in the current admission climate, this put the University’s acceptance rate up in the 40% range, rather than the teens or less, making them look less selective than their rivals.
The new president of the University says moving to the CA will help them reach more minority students, but I don’t see how that would work, any more than Harvard’s going to a no-Early Action policy will automatically benefit minority students. I think the real reason is to raise the number of applicants so the University can look more competitive in rankings, even though it already enrolls some of the brightest students in the country.
That being said, I understand that the U of C will provide a supplement to the CA that will have questions similar to those they already use, but the overall uniqueness of the format will have been lost and with it, one more thing that distinguishes the University of Chicago from other prominent American universities.
What began as a convenience for students has morphed into an applicant net for colleges. Ironically, as colleges continue to try to distinguish themselves from others, looking for anything that makes them unique, they seem to rely more and more on a method that, even with supplements, seems to make them feel more like one of the pack. It’s too bad the University of Chicago has lost that bit of uniqueness.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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