Sep 30, 2013

Minnesota Colleges find a way around the Common Application

Carleton College in Minnesota
You betcha’!  As early admissions deadlines loom, several of Minnesota’s most popular liberal arts colleges have found clever ways around ongoing problems at the Common Application.

It’s no secret that since its launch on August 1st, the Common Application has produced one headache after another for applicants, recommenders, and colleges.

The most recent software glitch may result in damaging delays for colleges waiting to receive completed applications—as late as October 15, according to one college website.

And because colleges work under tight deadlines particularly for their early admission programs, the clog in the Common App system could have serious repercussions for the entire 2013-14 admissions season.

But smart administrators at Carleton, Macalester, and St.Olaf colleges have come up with ways to get the flow of applications started sooner rather than later.

Because they did not fall for “exclusive” arrangements marketed by the Common Application, these three schools retained the option of introducing alternative forms or applications to “kick start” the process without violating the terms of their agreements with the Common App.

Each is now requesting that applicants complete a Part 1 application form, entirely separate from the Common App, but enough to get the ball rolling for prospective students.

In fact, Carleton is offering to waive the application fee for students willing to submit basic information by completing its Part 1.

And some of these forms are really very comprehensive and could be used as the basis for at least a preliminary if not a final decision on a student’s candidacy--should the need arise.

Other Minnesota Common App members have been more aggressive in their efforts to bypass the Common Application.  At this writing, Augsburg’s website makes no mention of the Common App and only provides a link to its own application.

The Gustavus Adolphus “Apply Online” webpage only provides a button for their application, although the Common Application has a link in another area of the admissions website. Hamline University provides top billing for their inhouse application, and the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University offers their GET INspired application as an alternative for students not applying to other Common Application schools (is this a subliminal message?).

Click here for information on how to apply to six Minnesota liberal arts colleges.

Sep 29, 2013

331 Common App Member Colleges look like Geniuses

Johns Hopkins University
In addition to bringing on new software, this year the Common Application engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign to increase the number of  “exclusive” member colleges and universities for 2013-14. 

These are institutions that have contractually agreed to use only the Common Application and no other competing product for purposes of making admissions decisions.

To encourage exclusivity, colleges were offered significant price breaks—up to $2.00 per submitted application and the opportunity to use SlideRoom for portfolio submission—if they would agree to drop whatever other application stood in the way of students using the Common Application.

The deal was sweetened if the college agreed to be at the Exclusive II level (as opposed to the less-desirable Exclusive I level) by standardizing deadlines, application fees, and “other” components of the application.

The marketing to non-exclusive members was intense, with lots of promises about the new “smart technology” being introduced on August 1 and strong hints about the amount of money an institution could save to devote to other needs.

And more than once, it was pointed out that the Common Application is an industry rainmaker—able to bring in more applications than any other of its competitors. 

Out of 517 members, 123 agreed to be Exclusive II members of the Common Application for 2013-14.  Another 63 agreed to the Exclusive I arrangement.

Colleges rushing to take advantage of Exclusive II benefits included Wash U, Duke, Rice and a predictable cohort of highly selective colleges and universities, some of which had previously offered students a choice of application products. 

Notable holdouts included Harvard University, Howard University, Carleton College (optional “Part 1”pretty much provides most of what is needed for a decision), Davidson College, Loyola University Maryland, Rochester Institute of Technology, UNC Asheville and Wilmington, Wake Forest University, and Johns Hopkins University.  These schools either felt maintaining competition in the industry was important or had experienced success with a variety of application products.

And now these admissions offices look like geniuses.

In the wake of ongoing problems with the new Common Application software, member colleges including “exclusives” experienced significant delays getting their applications fully loaded onto the Common App website.  

Many are receiving ongoing complaints about “stealth” or disappearing essays, and all have to patiently wait for the Common App to provide link-ups to receive any applications at all—perhaps as late as October 15 according to some college websites.

While bugs in the system were to be expected for any software launch, the degree and level of seriousness of the Common App’s problems as they affect applicants, recommenders, and colleges simply were not anticipated by anyone.

But the 331 non-exclusive members have alternative arrangements and are currently receiving applications despite the clog in the system over at the Common Application.

And they are quietly encouraging students to go ahead and use the “other” application, although colleges making the mistake of posting this suggestion on websites have been warned to remove it, as  Common App agreements prohibit colleges from showing favoritism to any alternative application form—even when the Common App isn’t working properly and can’t provide the completed applications as promised.

For those seeking alternatives and wanting to avoid headaches with the Common App, the following is a partial list of non-exclusive members all of which offer alternative electronic or paper applications (check with admissions offices or websites for details):

Allegheny College, PA
Augsburg College, MN
Belmont University, TN
Bryant University, RI
Butler University, IN
Calvin College, MI
Carleton College, MN
Catholic University, DC
College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, MN
Davidson College, NC
DePaul University, IL
Drew University, NJ
Drexel University, PA
Eckerd College, FL
Emerson College, MA
Florida Southern College, FL
Fordham University, NY (transfers and readmits only)
Harvard University, MA
Hollins University, VA
Hood College, MD
Hope College, MI
Howard University, DC
Johns Hopkins University, MD
Lake Forest College, IL
Loyola University Maryland
Loyola University New Orleans
Lynn University, FL
Macalester College, MN
McDaniel College, MD
Mills College, CA
New College of Florida
Oglethorpe University, GA
Pace University, NY
Quinnipiac University, CT
Randolph College, VA
Randolph-Macon College, VA
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), NY
Roanoke College, VA
Roger Williams University, RI
Rollins College, FL
Salisbury University, MD
St. John’s College Maryland
St. Olaf College, MN
Stetson University, FL
Stevenson University, MD
Susquehanna University, PA
Towson University, MD
University of Dayton, OH
University of Denver, CO
U of San Francisco, CA
University of Tampa, FL
Wake Forest University, NC
Washington College, MD
Xavier University, OH

Sep 28, 2013

Graduate School Fairs offer Exciting Opportunities

Harvard University

College fairs aren’t just for high school students anymore.  As increasing numbers of undergrads are considering various postgraduate options, new graduate school fairs are springing up across the country.

One of the more visible fairs targeted to prospective grad students is produced by Idealist, a nonprofit organization with the mission of connecting people, organizations and resources.

Idealist Grad Fairs are designed to connect prospective students with graduate schools in fields such as public administration, international affairs, education, public policy, public interest law, social work, nonprofit management, global and public health, theology, environmental science, and socially responsible business.

Locally, fairs are being organized in Baltimore and Washington, DC.

The DC fair is being hosted by the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the Washington Convention Center on October 1, and will feature about 249 graduate school programs including the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford Graduate School of Education, the UCLA Field School of Public Health, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Health.   

The Baltimore event will take place in the Glass Pavilion at Johns Hopkins University on September 30, and will include representatives from American University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University Teacher's College, Cornell Institute for Public Policy, Duke University, and the Yale School of Public Health.   
Both are free and open to the public.

For more information or to RSVP either event, visit the Idealist website.

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.