Unlocking college opportunity: Common App, one application to unlimited possibility

In this blog series, we will be highlighting the incredible work of some of our Scholar Snapp partners who are driving innovation in higher education to support low-income students to college graduation. You can find the full series here

This second blog focuses on The Common Application, a not-for-profit member organization committed to making sure all students have the same opportunities to apply for college. Each year, more than one million students, one-third of whom are first-generation, apply to college through the Common App’s online application. Founded in 1975, the Common App serves more than 850 member colleges and universities worldwide. 

We recently spoke with Jenny Rickard, President and CEO, about the Common App’s approach to supporting college access for all students. 

How does The Common Application support college access for all students?

The Common Application is forging a direct, unambiguous path to a viable future for all students. To do this, we work closely with our member institutions, school counselors, advisors and student advocacy groups to understand ways in which we can make the process of applying to college more simple, logical, and, hopefully, joyful.  

This means creating an application experience that is inclusive of the wide variety of life experiences that students bring to the table, connecting students to resources to help them navigate the college admissions, financial aid and scholarship application process, and implementing evidence-based practices to support applicants and those who support them. 

How does Scholar Snapp fit into your student support?

Submitting a college application is just one milestone students need to achieve in order to pursue a college degree. We’ve invested in a variety of resources to help students understand how to finance their education, and scholarships are an important component to that.  

We were thrilled to be Scholar Snapp-enabled for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we have a mission and vision for lowering barriers to students to access higher education. Second, Scholar Snapp offers a comprehensive eco-system of scholarship providers and aggregators that makes it easy for students of all backgrounds to find scholarships that meet their needs. By integrating the Common App with Scholar Snapp, we’re able to alleviate some of that burden of having to manage multiple applications by reducing the amount of time and effort it takes to complete a scholarship application. 

How did you get started in this work and what drives your passion today?

From my own undergraduate education, it became clear to me that access to educational opportunity can change a person’s life and perspective in so many positive ways. I was inspired to find a way to help students from all backgrounds have access to education and reach their aspirations. During my career, I was fortunate to serve as an enrollment leader at multiple colleges which is what ultimately brought me to the Common App. Today, we are working to impact access to education on a systemic level by expanding the variety of students and institutions we serve. Ensuring everyone who wants educational opportunity can have it really is a passion for me. 

What is your vision for higher education in the coming years?

The traditional narrative of high school students moving directly to a four-year degree is no longer the norm. Creating new pathways for underrepresented and adult student populations to access college opportunity is imperative not only for higher ed institutions to continue to fulfill their educational missions, but for our society and our communities.  

For the Common App, increasing a variety of opportunities for post-secondary education requires addressing both the systemic and logistical barriers in applying to college. We are excited to continue to develop technology that is intuitive, easy to use, and meets students where they are regardless of their background, experiences, or educational goals. 

What’s your message to others supporting students to college success?

College access, unfortunately, is not a point-in-time challenge. It is an ongoing challenge that we must solve for all the time, while adapting to meet the needs of an evolving student population. To do this effectively, we must find ways to collaborate and share best practices. There are so many great organizations working to achieve the same goal. We need to find more ways to work together in order to truly scale our efforts and reach even more students! 

Jenny Rickard is President & Chief Executive Officer of The Common Application. Since Jenny joined the Common App in August of 2016, the organization has developed a long-term strategic plan and roadmap and has expanded its access initiatives, including the acquisition of Reach Higher and the development of a new application system for transfer and adult students. Jenny received a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania; a Master of Business Administration degree from New York University, Stern School of Business; and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Swarthmore College.