Common App updates language on gender questions, fee waiver eligibility

Common App, used by more than a million students each year to apply to college, has announced changes to its application for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 admissions cycles—updates that clarify fee waiver eligibility and add options for students’ gender identity. These changes are part of its Evolving the Application initiative, an annual process that examines and revises Common App elements that may act as barriers to historically underrepresented students applying to college.

Sex and gender identity options

In the last few years, Common App has revised its application to be more accessible to undocumented students, veterans, and low-income students and students of color. Recently, Common App has changed its language to better serve its nonbinary and transgender applicants. Reporting laws require colleges ask for applicants’ legal name and sex, and in 2021, Common App added the option for students to use their preferred first name and pronoun set, and clarified a question asking about a student’s “legal sex,” Inside Higher Ed reports. Several of the Common App’s competitors—including the Coalition for College and the Universal College Application—also have updated questions about applicants’ pronouns and gender identity to maximize inclusion.

Now, Common App has announced more changes to its language about gender and sex to better reflect the diversity and needs of students using the platform. Beginning with the 2022-23 admissions cycle, Common App will add “legal” to the first/given name question and “Mx.” and “other” for counselor, parent, recommender, teachers, and advisor prefix options. 

For the 2023-24 admissions cycle, Common App will also add “X” or “another legal sex” as an option for legal sex indicator, in addition to “female” and “male,” mirroring the options now available on U.S. passports. These changes come as 24 states have already provided a third option for legal sex markers on official government documents.

Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of Common App, says the changes “represent the next step in an ongoing effort to create an equitable, just, and inclusive college admission process for all students–no matter how they identify.” She adds, “[I]t’s incumbent upon college universities, and organizations at every step of the admission experience, to remove barriers that may prevent students from pursuing the next step in their education journey.” 

Admissions officials have also expressed support for the changes. Camille A. Bouknight, director of admission at Boston-based Emerson College, says the updates will encourage “students to feel comfort in knowing that they can showcase their true selves throughout this process, no matter what aspect of the application they are completing.” 

Shane Windmeyer, CEO and executive director of Campus Pride, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ students, similarly lauds the Common App’s “evolution to be more equitable and inclusive in regards to the gender identity questions.” Windemeyer adds that “At a time when trans youth are being targeted across the country in the most inhumane ways, the Common App announcement sends a clear message that trans people deserve recognition, respect—and most importantly, their inclusion and safety matters.”

Clarifying fee waiver policies

Common App’s latest updates also seek to clarify its fee waiver policies, given evidence that nearly 39,000 first-year applicants did not request a fee waiver even though they were eligible for one, and that another 55,000 students who likely would have qualified for a fee waiver abandoned their applications prematurely, potentially due to concerns about the associated fee.

Common App will expand its fee waiver question to include a list of eligibility criteria and will simplify the eligibility process by providing a yes/no option, instead of requiring applicants to select multiple criteria. Common App hopes these changes will help students better understand who is eligible for fee waivers.

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