'U' may switch to Common Application

BY ANNIE THOMAS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 11, 2009

Current students who remember the University’s distinctive application process may recall the many hours spent trying to complete the form and tackle the essays. But this February, that process could become a thing of the past if the University joins 392 other schools that use the Common Application.

Do you think that the switch to the Common App is a good move for the University?

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According to Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, the University has applied to join the Common Application. If the application is approved, which Spencer said he strongly believes will happen, students will be able to submit the Common Application as early as the late summer admissions cycle of 2010.

The Common Application is an organization that provides one application plus school-specific supplements for colleges and universities across the country that subscribe to a holistic review process.

The University of Pennsylvania, The University of Virginia, Dartmouth College, Northwestern University and Harvard University are among the many schools that currently use the Common Application.

Spencer said one of the main reasons the University is switching over to the Common Application is to better compete with other large public universities and small private schools that already use it.

He said he has also heard from officials at other colleges that using the Common Application has improved the quality and quantity of their applicants.

Spencer said that using the Common Application would also attract more students from different backgrounds.

“(Applicants) were from different socio-economic areas, first-generation, racial and ethnicities, international as well as geographic diversity in terms of the kinds of volume of applications that they (other Common Application schools) received,” Spencer said.

Elizabeth Jamett, director of college counseling for the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe, Mich., said the move to the Common Application will be a big change because “(The Michigan application) is its own unique being.”

Jamett said that while she is a “fan” of the Common Application for prospective students because it makes their lives easier, she also noted that it might make it difficult for admissions officers to distinguish those students who truly want to attend the University.

“If I am a student who is applying to those (Common Application) schools, then maybe prior to the University of Michigan using the Common App I wouldn’t have necessarily applied to Michigan,” Jamett said.

“But now, if I’m using the Common Application, if I have it filled out and as long as my parents have the money put out for the application fee then there is really no downside to me hitting ‘send’ to the University of Michigan in addition to all those other schools,” she added.

Though the University will now share an application with many other schools, Spencer said that officials here could still design a supplemental application that will be a part of the Common Application and include those things that are unique to the University.

In fact, Spencer said the University’s current application includes features of the Common Application.

In an interview yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she supported the transition to the new application process after she found out it would still allow admissions officers to conduct a holistic review of potential students.

“When I realized that we could in fact customize the Common Application for what we needed and that we weren’t going to lose our ability to still do the holistic review, for me it became a matter of why wouldn’t we want to make it easier for students to apply to Michigan?” Coleman said.

“I wouldn’t want to give that up at all because I think that has been a huge strength of our admissions process that we are much more than just about your grades and test scores,” Coleman said. “We want to get a sense of what you will bring to the university and also the ways that we think we can enrich a student’s experience.”

Patrick O’Connor, director of college counseling at the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said that this switch would allow his students to focus on important parts of their application and still be able to focus on their schoolwork.

“I can say beyond a shadow of doubt, that if Michigan decides to make this switch, this is going to be a tremendous benefit to my students and I think all students who apply to six to eight colleges,” O’Connor said. “It’s going to be less paperwork, it’s going to give them a chance to focus on the quality of their essays and actually give them a chance to devote more time to their senior year classes.”

While the application will make it easier for students to apply, area counselors didn’t believe that it would increase the number of their students’ applications to Michigan.

“So many of our students apply to the University of Michigan,” Jamett said. “And for those students, they would apply to the University of Michigan whether Michigan had its own application, whether Michigan was listed in the common application, or if Michigan made its application more complex, they would still be applying to the University of Michigan. It’s a big draw for our kids.”

Larry Fisher, director of guidance at East Grand Rapids High School, pointed out that the switch to the Common Application could help area college counselors “do more with less” because the time spent by counselors writing recommendations for multiple schools could be cut in half.

Spencer said that with the economy the way that it is, any way to get more information out to students who are interested in applying is important.

“If the Common Application can broaden our base and broaden our application reach in order for us to get students interested in the University of Michigan and keep our application numbers to the point where we can still enroll great students,” Spencer said, “then I think its probably the best way for us as we go into some of these next few years of uncertainty with the economy.”