This writing originally appeared in a Change.org petition created by senior Maggie Zhou. Find her petition here.
When I tried to submit a college essay this fall to the Common Application, the most widely used admissions platform by American colleges, I encountered a problem. My essay included quotes from my father with Chinese characters in it, but when I tried to submit, the characters turned into question marks. It was crucial to me that the quotes were in Chinese so I emailed for help, but all I got back from Common App was “unfortunately, our system does not allow for special characters to be used in the essay. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” This infuriated me.
One of the Common App essay prompts is to “share the story of your background, identity, or talent that is important to you.” How does Common App expect students to explain their “background and identity” if they can’t even use a non-English language to tell a full story?
Common App prides itself on being an “organization committed to the pursuit of access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process.” However, it seems that access is not equitable for students who grew up with a non-English language.
Chinese characters are not “special;” they are just not English. Besides, America does not have an official language. By only allowing English to be submitted, Common App is oppressing all non-English languages while making non-native English speakers compromise to a lower-quality essay, which lowers their chance of getting into college.
Common App, is this what you mean by equity?