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Inspired by the latest technology of the time–the photocopier, a group of colleges and universities came together in 1975 to streamline the college application process by creating a common application form. The goal was to make the application process simpler for students and to broaden the pool of prospective applicants. 

In 2023, we tapped into the spirit of that small group of colleges in 1975 to explore what we can do now--almost 50 years later--to expand our college and university members’ reach and serve more first-generation college and low- and middle-income students. This past September, Common App launched what we’re calling our Next Chapter

Our Next Chapter is not so different from what our founders imagined in 1975. We’re working with members, counselors, and other key partners to reach our moonshot goal to close our equity gap in students pursuing postsecondary opportunities. To close the gap, Common App needs 650,000 additional applicants from low- and middle-income communities by 2030.

In these complex times, we will use our strength as a diverse membership association, our data, our technology–and our collective voice–to expand access for all students. As we head into the new year, here are some highlights from 2023 and a peek at where 2024 will take us:

  • Sharing early insights on the impact of the SCOTUS decision ending race-conscious admissions: Our deadline updates are showing no meaningful changes following the Supreme Court’s decision. In fact, early 2023-2024 application data we’ve seen this year show that underrepresented minority applicants have increased by 15% since 2022, and first-generation applicants have increased by 8%.
  • Making more students feel worthy of college and welcomed by at least one member college: In November, Common App launched its direct admissions program with 70 member colleges and universities. Over 300,000 first-generation and low- and middle-income students across 28 states received proactive admissions offers. We also partnered with the state of Connecticut to offer thousands of students direct admissions through their Connecticut Automatic Admissions Program (CAAP). These offers have great potential to help more students–especially those who are first-generation or from low-income communities–access higher education.
  • Giving students more opportunities to share their unique experiences: In partnership with Making Caring Common, we created a Student Context Inventory that gives students the option to tell us more about their circumstances and responsibilities in a checklist-style section of the application. In its second year, we partnered with 25 member colleges for this pilot initiative. We found that the responses are strongly related to common indicators of socioeconomic and first-generation status.
  • Helping students pay for college: As part of our ongoing partnership with Scholarship America, this year we reached out to 73,000 students, encouraging them to apply for private scholarships, resulting in over $350,000 awarded to underrepresented students. Thanks to generous funding from the Kresge Foundation, that enhancement is shifting from communicating to students through email, letting them know directly in the application this year. We have four participating scholarship partners this year, and we are aiming to increase the number of students we reach in 2024. 
  • Supporting students to complete the FAFSA: In a partnership with Benefits Data Trust, we have connected our  2 million students and their families with a digital chatbot named Wyatt to assist them with FAFSA completion.
  • Inspiring a college-going culture: Through our Reach Higher initiative, we recognized school counselors with the 2023 Excellence in College Counseling Awards and our annual College Signing Day celebration. Reach Higher also supports students and those who serve them with helpful checklists for the college application process, interviews with students on community college campuses, and tips on managing stress.
  • Revealing the complexity behind first-generation status: Common App’s first research brief of the season took a deep dive into nearly a decade of application data for over 9 million applicants to analyze first-generation status, parental education, and related student characteristics. The analysis highlights how small details can impact who is considered a first-generation college student.
  • Making early progress toward our moonshot goal: As part of our Next Chapter, we set a bold goal to close the gap in students from low- and middle-income communities applying via the Common App. We are already seeing strong signs of growth this season. So far, application growth in students from below-median-income communities is outpacing that of their peers from other communities (14% since 2022-23 versus 5%). 

I’m filled with gratitude this holiday season, and there’s no better time to express my thanks and sincere appreciation to our members, partners, counseling community, and the incredible Common App team for the work they do every day to expand access to those who need it most.

It's been quite a year, and all signs are pointing to continued growth and expanded access for students in 2024. As we forge ahead into our Next Chapter, we are grateful for the great idea that led our founders to create Common App nearly 50 years ago--with a mission and purpose strong enough to continue to inspire us today and in the years to come.