Sep 24, 2013

Common App promises to fix Score Reporting and other Non-technical Problems

TORONTO—In the limited time left for questions and answers during the a panel assembled for the 2013 National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual convention, Common App officials made a few concessions and promised to fix a couple of linguistics problems including the nagging issue of self-reported scores.

“It’s been a learning curve for all of us,” commented Scott Anderson, the Common App’s senior director for policy, who fielded questions from the audience.

Print Previews
For students struggling with Print Preview, the Common App promises that next year the preview function will be more readily available. For now, applicants must push a button currently labeled “Start Submission” to generate a preview. According to Anderson, software developers simply ran out time and conveniently tucked it into the very end of the process, which is admittedly not ideal.   

After considerable debate on semantics and stress, Common App executive Director Rob Killion agreed to re-label the "Start Submission" button to “Print Preview,” for purposes of reducing anxiety and encouraging students to review their applications before submission. 

Text Boxes  
Much feedback was provided on the move away from document uploads to direct entry text boxes for both the personal statement and additional information questions.  The decision to go with copy and paste was made for the purpose of “enforcing word counts,” and additional words (beyond the original 500) were added to provide some flexibility.  Both the personal statement and additional information now have “hard” limits of 650 words.  

Note that the formatting appearing in the text box will be different from the formatting that appears during Print Preview.  Bold, underline, and italics will carry over, but extra spaces and extra return breaks will automatically be removed when students click continue. This area of the application still seems a little “wonky.” Some Print Preview issues may be resolved by changing browsers or using a "utility" for editing text before entering a document in the box; others may require intervention by the Help Desk.

Essay Prompts
The panel acknowledged that many of the Writing Supplement essay prompts could be more specific about word limits.  Without exactly blaming colleges, both Anderson and Killion suggested an effort would be made to provide additional information and make instructions as clear as possible.

Essay Versions
A request for some additional flexibility in the number of essay “versions” allowed by the new Common Application (now only 3—down from 10 last year) was met with boos from school counselors in the audience.  Despite the creation of college-specific questions and the availability of college-designed Writing Supplements, officials at the Common Application persist in the belief that they have produced a “common” application and the availability of too much flexibility in tailoring (or correcting) essays runs counter to the mission and philosophy of the organization. 

Evidently some school counselors agree with the Common Application (hence the boos), although it’s not clear why, as these kinds of arbitrary limitations only serve to produce stress among kids who want to tailor personal statements for their first-choice colleges or those who come to hate their statements midway through the process. And sometimes, applicants just need to correct typos or simply want to rephrase. Interestingly, a number of application readers in the audience expressed different opinions and wondered aloud why students were being limited in this way.

Warning:  After two corrections or changes to submitted essays, the third and final version will be locked forever.

Self-reporting of Scores
Ending the session on a productive note, Rob Killion agreed to fix the series of questions pertaining to the self-reporting of test scores.  After initially changing the opening question in the series to ask applicants which tests they “wish” to report, the Common App assumed students would continue to answer follow-up questions in the same vein.  Unfortunately, that assumption was producing conflicted answers and discomfort among students seeking to answer the questions exactly as stated.  To resolve the problem, follow-up questions will be clarified to ask only for scores students wish to report.  

At every opportunity, the Common App team underscored the availability of its Help Desk to resolve problems.  Despite complaints about the quality and timeliness of response, there will be no other way for applicants or counselors to get answers to their questions.  

And even if it may seem not to be true at times, the audience was assured that “live people” will be manning the desk around the clock beginning on October 1.

This is the third in a series of three articles.

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