A few years ago, Common App asked members, counselors, and students what words they would never use to describe the college admission process. Words like simple, logical, joyful, and equitable emerged repeatedly among all our constituents. 

For students, we found that the most stressful moment within Common App is pressing the submit button. We responded by enhancing our user experience, adding confetti and a ‘celebrate’ button when you hit submit. We know from our data that the ‘celebrate’ button is the number one repeatedly clicked in the Common App–underscoring the need for some relief and joy in the application process.

Although applying to college might never be as joyful as riding a pink unicorn through a confetti storm, the work the Common App team has accomplished this year has helped us move closer to making the admissions process for students simple, logical, and even joyful.

I’m incredibly proud of how each member of the Common App team has helped lead us forward as an organization in order to impact more of the students who need us most. We’ve accomplished so much this year, from another successful August 1 application launch, to continuing to text hundreds of thousands of students to help them apply to college, to celebrating Reach Higher’s annual College Signing Day with inspiring digital content to send students off to their next destination in style. We hit a major milestone of more than 1,000 Common App colleges and universities for students to explore. We’ve grown as a team, and are continuing to build a culture grounded in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

As we head into the new year, I want to highlight some more of what we accomplished with all of our partners this year and where 2023 will take us. 

Reducing the fear of rejection

We know that one of the barriers for students completing and submitting applications is fear of rejection. Our Direct Admissions program aims to flip the script on college admissions and offer proactive admission to students.

In January 2022, we launched the second year of our direct admission pilot program that offered admission to students in Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey. Approximately 18,000 students across these four states created a Common App account, met the requirements of a participating institution, and were offered direct admission. More than 800 of those students ended up submitting an application to one of the six Direct Admission partner institutions. 

Our team also found strong evidence that our Direct Admission program had the strongest impacts for Black or African American, Latinx, and First-generation students. In interviews after our second round of the pilot, students expressed to us that they felt relief and pride–and it showed them that they belonged in college. 

We’re continuing to scale and pilot the initiative this year. We’re expected to directly admit 30,000 applicants, and 14 Common App colleges and universities are participating this year. 

Boosting college affordability

Affordability continues to be one of the biggest barriers to a college education. Our continued partnership with Scholarship America, the largest aggregator of private scholarships in the country, has shown even more promising results. Our goal is to help students seamlessly apply to scholarships directly through Common App. 

In this year’s second iteration of our pilot, applicants who applied for scholarships after Common App prompted them were 16% more likely to be first-generation students and 28% more likely to be from an under-represented racial group.

We’ll continue to partner with Scholarship America in the new year to help even more students afford college.

Doing more with data

As we continue to expand our data warehouse, our Data Analytics and Research team has published a number of research reports that have helped guide our equity work and identify potential barriers and opportunities to improve college access. These reports have ranged from unpacking applicant race and ethnicity, long-term trends in diversifying our applicant pool, and a deep dive into the patterns of high volume activity among Common App applicants. We’ll continue releasing more research insights and our monthly deadline updates in 2023. 

Increasing diversity

Recruiting more Minority-Serving Institutions

In 2019, we noticed that we only had a small percentage of all Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) compared to overall institutions in our membership. Over the last few years, we’ve been taking steps toward equity by connecting historically disadvantaged students with a wider array of diverse institutions, specifically MSIs. 

The overarching goal of the MSI Program is for both students and MSIs to benefit from a larger and more inclusive Common App. Since we’ve started the program, we’ve welcomed over 50 MSIs to our membership. 

Achieving meaningful impact

All of the work we are doing together is making a big difference. The number of underrepresented minority applicants has grown at twice the rate of their counterparts over the past 7 years. 

Even more so, early 2022-2023 application data we’ve seen this year already show that underrepresented minority applicants have increased by 37% since 2019, while first-generation applicants increased by 43%--more than twice the rate of continuing-generation applicants over the same period. Low-income applicants also increased at nearly three times the rate of higher-income applicants. (56% vs. 15%).

Common App’s next chapter

As you can tell, we’ve been busy this year! And, we’re just getting started. While we’ve made large gains in the last decade, Common App’s next decade is about aiming big: We want to close our equity gap in students pursuing postsecondary opportunities. 

In 2023, we will go beyond the application to empower more students to access, afford, and attain postsecondary opportunities. And, we’ll work more closely with our members, counselors, partners and students than ever before. We can’t wait to share more with you. 

It will take all of us working together to collectively change the system to create more equity of opportunity…and maybe even bring a little joy back to the admissions process.