October 24, 2018

Ep. 147 – The Common App: How a Nonprofit Tech Company Transformed Itself for the Digital Age

For this episode, we’re talking about innovation and the evolution of the Common Application, a nonprofit membership organization composed of more than 800 colleges and universities around the country and around the world with a common mission of promoting access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process.

Among the topics we discuss are how the Common App has reinvented itself for the digital age, how they prepare to handle a seasonal rush that leads to massive spikes of usage and traffic, and what happens behind the scenes over the course of a year for a company that winds up having just one big release every year.

Joining us today to talk about those topics and more is Jenny Rickard, the CEO of the Common Application. Jenny has been the CEO of the Common Application for the last two years and her experience embodies each area of the college enrollment management process, including admissions, marketing communications, technology, and financial aid.


How is the Common App promoting access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process?

  • The main way that they fulfill that mission is through the Common App itself, which is a streamlined application platform that allows applicants to enter information about themselves once and use it to apply to multiple colleges and universities. Students can also research financial aid and scholarship opportunities, and connect to college counseling resources through the platform.
  • “And last year, more than one million students, one-third of whom will be the first in their families to go to college, used the Common App to apply to college.”

Reinventing the Common App for the digital age.

  • “People will think, nonprofit technology company? That’s an oxymoron.” But Common App has spent a lot of time really focusing on how they can be more relevant to millennials and Gen Z by taking advantage of this digital economy.
  • “I really truly see us as a mission-driven organization whose goal is to help students through the innovative use of technology, to help them pursue their dreams of higher education regardless of their background, and we’ve been continually reinventing ourselves as technology has evolved.”
  • And this is a trend going back to the origins of the Common App. It was actually started more than 40 years ago by a group of visionary admissions deans and college counselors who saw an opportunity to reduce barriers to applying to college by leveraging the latest technology of that time – the photocopier!

What about the future? Is there something on the horizon in terms of how education is going to change, or how Common App is going to be able to assist with accessibility?

  • When people think of college applications, they tend to focus on a high school-to-college market, but that’s actually a relatively small percentage of college applicants. So this year, Common App launched a new transfer application to help make the application process more accessible for even more people. Because when you look at the undergraduate student market, 40 percent of students are attending community college and 80 percent of those students, when they arrive at community college, indicate that they would like to transfer to a four-year institution.
  • “We’ve launched our new transfer application to really try to be much more welcoming, accessible, and reflective of the very diverse experiences that community college transfer students bring, that returning adult learners bring, that veterans and military personnel bring to the process, to help connect them in a much more streamlined way to the 800 members that we have who are eager to enroll those students on their campuses.”



Learn more at CommonApp.org
Follow @CommonApp on Twitter
Connect with Jenny Rickard on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter: @JennyCommonApp


About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.