Sep 23, 2013

The Common Application works to address 'Known' Problems

TORONTO—While not wishing to minimize the frustrations and problems encountered by both applicants and colleges during the first months of CA4 implementation, a panel of Common Application officials at the 2013 National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) annual convention pointed to opening numbers as an indication of both the success and popularity of their system.

“If you read blogs, you would think nothing is working,” said Scott Anderson, the Common App’s senior director for policy. “That’s not the case.”

After an aggressive campaign promising an exciting new system with much-anticipated enhancements including the provision of all essay supplements from Day One, over 1000 individuals from a dozen countries successfully opened accounts within the first 20 minutes of launch—a number far higher than ever anticipated.  

What wasn’t noted was that the system promptly crashed and limped through its first full day with only 74 out of 517 colleges having uploaded their Writing Supplements (note that as of the NACAC session about 10 colleges still did not have complete applications available through the Common App system).

Despite the opening day glitches, however, 50,000 accounts were initiated on August 1, alone.

And students continue to flock to the Common Application as increased numbers of colleges signed on this year to become “exclusive” members of the organization.

In fact, as of September 15, out of 585,370 unique accounts (up 20% over the same time last year), 14,340 applicants (up 22%) had submitted 31,352 applications (up 23%), which included 14,340 Writing Supplements and 8,190 fee waivers (up 43%).

Curiously, however, payments were logged for only 18,871 of the applications—down 4.5 percent from last year—a possible result of a nagging credit card problem in the system.

Moving forward, Anderson pointed out that software fixes are being released on a regular basis, Naviance and other third-party integration continues, preparations are being made for peak periods, new training resources are being developed, and 24/7 support will be made available starting October 1.

Among the issues addressed by the Common App panel were ongoing log-in problems, the appearance/disappearance of green checks, payment reconciliation issues, rules governing FERPA, the retirement of paper applications, and the availability of paper school forms.

Log-in Issues
With regard to log-ins, applicants and recommenders were reminded to take note of their “landing” page.  Recommenders can’t log-in within the applicant tabs, and applicants can log-in within recommender tabs.  For those who encountered log-in issues after changing email addresses on their applications, the problem has been fixed going forward but others will have to go to the Help Desk for assistance getting back on board.

Green Checks
Green check problems appear largely due to students taking an “idiosyncratic path” through the application.  In other words, software developers assumed students would answer application questions sequentially and were surprised that adolescents might not be so predictable in their approach.  It’s unclear whether the problem has been completely fixed, and students with persistent problems preventing them from completing and/or submitting an application need to contact the Help Desk directly.  

Payment Bugs
For the most part, the payment problem should be fixed.  It occurred as a result of a “back flow” of information from an off-site third-party billing agent.  Students are still warned that credit cards may take 24 to 48 hours to process (nothing new) and should make certain that their applications are submitted well in advance of deadlines.  In the meantime, the Common Application is taking responsibility for double payments and will ensure that refunds are made. Students should not contact individual colleges for refunds.

Evidently there has been confusion about the location and completion of the Common Application FERPA statement, which is no longer available through Naviance.  Once a student agrees to or declines the FERPA waiver on the Common Application, it cannot be undone.  There is no reset.  Neither the school nor the Common Application can (or will) change the applicant’s response.  Students are advised to take all warnings seriously, as their only recourse is to notify individual colleges of a mistake in this area.

There are no more paper applications.  Period.  This was announced over a year ago.  The new application was constructed to be “dynamic” so each individual applicant could “choose their own application adventure.”  Because it would be difficult if not impossible to replicate the experience, a Counselor Guide was devised to be used to introduce the general sequence of questions and requirements. Paper “school forms” may only be generated by the applicant after a counselor or teacher has indicated that they wish not to use the electronic application option. Applicants may then download and printout individual forms requiring completion and submission by a counselor/administrator, a teacher, or an “other” nonacademic recommender.

Interested parties may keep up with Common App progress fixing “known” problems by subscribing to a dedicated webpage created for this purpose.   

To report problems, you must use the Common Application Help Desk, which has a less than 10 minute response time—on average.

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