College A More 'Common' Application Process

The University of Chicago is known for its "Uncommon Application," filled with quirky questions like "How do you feel about Wednesday?" So when word got out in November that the school is expected to switch to the more staid Common Application, Illinois high-school junior Amy Allen wrote the dean of enrollment, Michael Behnke, in dismay: "The questions I saw on the Uncommon App were fun and interesting. I was already thinking about what mathematical function I might be!" (That's essay option No. 4.)

The Common Application is simpler, more utilitarian--and soaring in popularity. Since a nonprofit consortium of colleges behind it was founded in 1975, membership has swelled from 15 to 298 schools; 15 more are currently applying to join. Colleges, U of C included, like the generic app because it ups the applicant pool. (Most college-ranking systems weigh the percentage of admitted students.) Students like filling out just one form and zapping it--along with application fees--to as many as 20 schools. "We as an admissions profession have made this process more complicated. The Common App is the only significant step we've taken to simplify it," says James Sumner, president of The Common Application, Inc.

So far, U of C students support the move, and the school paper endorsed it. And the spirit of the Uncommon App isn't lost. "Fear not!" Behnke wrote Allen, the high-school junior. Like two thirds of Common App schools, U of C plans to include a supplement with unique questions. Phew--but that "Wednesday" question still has us stumped.