Since early 2020, Common App’s Evolving the App project has explored particular questions on the application that may serve as barriers to completion for underrepresented students and identified actions to reduce these barriers. One facet of this work, focused on reducing barriers for DACA and undocumented students, has been a particularly complex, coalition-driven effort. 

A growing body of research reinforces what we already know: the college admissions process perpetuates and exacerbates systemic inequities in education, particularly for Black and Latinx students. Undocumented students, in particular, face unique and often devastating obstacles to postsecondary education. The logistical challenges of the application and enrollment process often lead to feelings of anxiety and isolation that keep undocumented students from persisting in college, if they are admitted at all.

Common App data suggest that application questions about students’ citizenship status, geography, and family background suppress college-going aspiration among undocumented students. Within Common App data, we defined undocumented students as those who indicated non-US citizenship, but did not have or intend to apply for a US visa and had a home address inside the US.

After working with a group of Common App members and policy representatives to revise these sections, gathering feedback from our membership, and testing these revisions with international and undocumented students, we will be making the following changes in the 2021-2022 application season for both first-year and transfer students:

  • Replacing the Citizenship response, “Other (non-U.S.)” with separate options for international students and undocumented/DACA students
  • For all Geography questions, either removing the question or making it optional
  • Removing parent and sibling questions 
  • Making questions related to parent occupation and parent education optional 

User Tests

We conducted user tests with undocumented/DACA students and international students. During these user tests, students walked through prototypes for 3 versions of the new Geography and Nationality section + the current Citizenship section. The variance among these prototypes was the number of questions visible to a student upfront. Students also provided feedback on the Family section and the new in-line help. 

What we heard

  • 88% of students with whom we tested preferred seeing all universal questions upfront. For this reason, we will show Birth Country, City of Birth, Years Lived in the U.S., and Citizenship on the page when a student enters the Geography and Nationality section. 
  • Undocumented/DACA students preferred the new choice-value to identifying themselves as “Other (Non-US),” so we will keep this new choice-value to provide an inclusive question for these students.
  • Using the title, “U.S. domestic or residing,” for the new choice-value provided for DACA, undocumented, Deferred Enforced Departure, and Temporary Protected Status confused undocumented/DACA students, so we removed the title for this choice-value. 
  • The question, “If you intend to apply for a new or different U.S. Visa, please indicate that visa type,” confused international students, so we separated it into 2 questions.

Member comment period

During the same period when we were conducting student user tests, we opened revisions up to a two-week period, during which all members could view proposed revisions and send feedback.  During this two-week comment period, we received input from 26 of our members, representing public and private institutions and multiple departments within the institutions, including international admissions. 

What we heard:

  • Members asked to keep U.S. dual citizen, U.S. permanent resident, and U.S. refugee or asylee as separate choice-values, instead of grouping them together. We will keep them separate due to this feedback. 
  • Members asked to keep Birth Country as required and to add City of Birth back into the application. Our data show that 6% of undocumented non-submitters skip current geography questions, compared to 1.5% of U.S. citizen non-submitters. Since this is a low percentage, we will add City of Birth back into the application. However, due to the significant discrepancy in skip rates, we will make both optional so that they do not prevent a student from persisting to submission.
  • Members asked to keep green card upload for U.S. permanent residents, due public institutions’ need to determine the state of residence. We will add green card upload back into this section, as optional.
  • Members asked to keep the parent address in the Family section. We pulled data from the 2019 cycle and saw that 22% of undocumented non-submitters skip this question, compared to 12% of U.S. citizen non-submitters. Due to this significant percentage of undocumented non-submitters and the significant discrepancy (1.8x) between U.S. citizen and undocumented non-submitters, we will not keep parent address in the Family section.

Moving Forward

We will move forward with these revisions for the 2021-2022 first-year application and will apply relevant changes to the 2021-2022 transfer application.

This facet of our Evolving the App project reflects the efforts of many. Numerous Common App members helped us reach this change through our Apps Advisory committee, our citizenship working group, and through our open comment period. We are proud to be working with our membership to create a more inclusive application that will hopefully lead to increased submission for all students, especially undocumented/DACA students. We would also be remiss if we neglected to acknowledge the students who graciously worked with us to identify challenges and test our revisions. We will continue to examine our data to evaluate the success of these changes or the need for further revision, in our ongoing pursuit of a college application process that welcomes all students.