The Student News Site of Hayfield Secondary School

The Harvester News

The Student News Site of Hayfield Secondary School

The Harvester News

The Student News Site of Hayfield Secondary School

The Harvester News

A life shaped by sports
Yahia Omar, Staff Writer • May 21, 2024

The Common App should do better

Common App login page

As I was filling out my college applications like many other seniors, and went to paste my supplements, I was ultimately confused when my response included question marks. Fearful I did something wrong, I clicked on the box and realized the Chinese characters included in my response were gone, now replaced with question marks. The writing that showcased a part of myself was gone, turning into a confusing mess. I tried everything, even typing out the letters straight onto the text box. Nothing worked, and it wasn’t until I googled if Common App allowed them, my heart dropped to see its answer: no. I and many others are sharing our disappointment in the Common App for this decision. How can this occur for an “organization committed to the pursuit of access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process” as it proclaims to be?

Common App’s answer to my question was simple. 

“Since the application and recommende r systems accept the UTF-8 character set, our data only allows the MySQL’s latin1 character set. Characters outside of the latin1 character set are translated to an unreadable format when saved to the database,” is displayed on the Common App help page.  

Amy Ferguson, Hayfield’s College and Career Specialist also further clarifies this issue. After discussing with some Common App representatives from meetings and events she’s attended, She explains it is more of a technical issue rather than an ethical issue. Computers cannot comprehend or directly translate characters from Common App to colleges. 

However, here is the problem. Just like Maggie Zhou from The Cardinal Times writes, “Chinese characters are not special; they are just not English.” She also is one of many who are frustrated with Common App’s decision. It is conflicting to encourage students to showcase true, authentic parts of themselves and their identity that make them unique, yet take away the one thing that will allow them to do so. 

Especially with prompts revolving around culture, background, or identity for the Common App essay or supplemental from other universities, allowing students to incorporate characters from their language is crucial to creating a piece of writing that is not only unique but also raw and exceptional. It allows admission readers to read a piece of work that shows it comes from the heart of the student writing it. For example, my Chinese name Zhang Xiu Ying is much more authentic and powerful written as, 张秀英. I know that many other students around the world, just like me, are writing about important parts of their identity and are frustrated by this decision of Common App to not allow any characters besides English. 

One of the prompts Common App asks students to respond is: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story”. If that is what we have to respond to, then Common App needs to ensure that students have the opportunity to fully be able to express themselves, and that includes being able to write in their language. 

Of course, no one should be writing their entire essays in a different language. However, it may be crucial to a student’s writing to incorporate their languages into it. The Common App needs to consider updating its systems and technology to allow this. Hopefully, they do so, and if they don’t then students who are applying to college next year may have to limit themselves in their writing when it comes to fully sharing their story. 


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About the Contributor
Jaslyn Truong
Jaslyn Truong, Editor-in-chief
Hi everyone, I am Jaslyn Truong! I love to write and I hope you all enjoy my stories, thank you! As Editor- in-chief I hope you all enjoy the stories by our Harvester News staff. In college, I plan to pursue studying both Political Science and Communications. 

Comments (3)

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  • A

    Andrew BanocyDec 4, 2023 at 10:56 am

    Very well written as per usual!

    • J

      Jaslyn TruongDec 8, 2023 at 2:14 pm

      I miss you

  • R

    Rania BaamraniNov 28, 2023 at 10:49 pm

    beautifully written — i came across the exact same experience with Arabic in my commonapp writing supplements. Great work as always Jaslyn!