Not long after this year’s Common App launched — a new version for the 2013-14 application season and a completely new version of the interface, aka Common App 4 — I offered 3 quick tips for completing the Common App, including this:
Find help before you get too frustrated.
Unfortunately, the new Common App has proven itself beyond the help of its own staff, causing multiple problems for applicants and colleges alike. As the New York Times reported October 13, Online Application Woes Make Students Anxious and Put Colleges Behind Schedule:
Problems became evident as soon as the application was released in August, including some confusing wording that was later changed. Students who thought they had finished the application found that it was incomplete because questions had been added after its release. As changes were made, some who had started their applications early found themselves locked out of the system.
A function that allows students to preview applications and print them sometimes just shows blank pages — a problem that may be linked to which Web browsers they use. And, as Ms. Geiger discovered, the system often does not properly format essays that are copied and pasted from another program, like Microsoft Word.
The earliest Early Action and Early Decision deadlines of October 15 caused the entire Common App system to close down for several hours on October 14. For more on that, and examples of college reactions, see Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s Common Application Pandemonium:
You know the Common App’s malfunctioning system is in trouble, when a top administrator at Cornell University in an interview in The New York Times, publicly made this observation about the system: “It’s been a nightmare. I’ve been a supporter of the Common App, but in this case, they’ve really fallen down.” (Admission folks are usually quite circumspect when they are being quoted.)
What’s a high school senior, planning to apply early, to do?
1. Start with how it SHOULD work. Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde have provided a Common App 4 update to their step by step guide in College Admission. Download here their twenty page supplement; it offers clear instructions on how the new Common App is supposed to work. They explain the intuitive interface (if the student indicates parents are divorced, a second contact form appears), the green check marks and red asterisks (checks indicate what has been completed; asterisks indicate what is required), the mysteries involved with Print Preview, and much more. Do not miss the to-do list on page 17.
2. Double-check your college’s website. Beloit is accepting paper copies. Princeton is accepting the competition, the Universal College Application. Many colleges have extended their deadlines. Do not accept my word for it, nor that of a newspaper article. Go directly to the admissions page of each college on your list and check their deadlines and any other possible changes.
3. Learn the known problems. Nancy Griesemer, a Virginia college counselor, has written 8 Tips for Improving the Common Application Experience. Every high school family would be well-advised to read this before trying to submit. Here are the tips, important details can be found via the article link:
- Avoid traffic jams (the 24 hours immediately preceding major due dates)
- Conform to system requirements
- Don’t touch the text boxes
- Invite your recommenders
- Carefully review Print Preview
- Do not pay twice
- Sign your application
- Don’t forget the Writing Supplement
Nothing has been submitted from our household yet. While I would have preferred that Mod Squad Julie was done with early applications, I cannot argue with taking time to make sure all the details are included and all the essays are fine-tuned. She also needs to read this post before we hand over the credit card. Good luck to all of the seniors (and their parents)!