Feb 4, 2012

A Makeover for the Common App

Last fall, the Common Application announced that its online application system would be undergoing a major facelift. Dubbed Common App 4.0, the new electronic form is due to make its debut in August 2013 and will replace a system put in place six years ago—long before iPods and iPads revolutionized the way kids get information.

“The current online system is a very good one, but it was not designed to handle the volume we’re anticipating in the coming decade,” explained Martha Merrill, Common App board president and secretary in an open letter to the NACAC membership. “We will build a new system that can handle the anticipated volume, will add the simplest, most modern interface possible for applicants and members, and will incorporate many new features.”

And it can’t come soon enough.

While continuing to set all kinds of utilization records—561,048 applicants submitted 2,435,301 applications by mid-January—the application software continues to suffer from a series of problems most likely due to old age, which comes early in the technology business.

According to the New York Times, the Common Application will be investing $7 to $8 million in a project designed to result in a “smoother, faster, more intuitive application.” It promises to address the “vexing” truncation issue and improve interface with the iPad.

That’s good news for the high school class of 2014, but not so good for students applying during the 2012-13 application cycle. Hopefully, the Common App will continue to support the old software and the “band aids” they’ve already applied will hold for one more season.

In addition to attracting more applications and students using the system, the Common LinkApplication has worked hard to bring recommendations online and increase the number of member colleges using the service.

Locally, American University, George Washington, the College of William & Mary, Johns Hopkins, Randolph Macon College, Goucher, the University of Mary Washington, and the LinkUniversity of Richmond are long-time users of the Common App. New members include Christopher Newport University, Howard University, Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, Salisbury University, and Towson University.

It’s estimated that the number of applications filed through the Common Application system could exceed 10 million by the end of this decade, and officials hope the number of members will more than double from the current group of 456 colleges and universities.

“If we stick with the architecture of the current system through the end of the decade, with the growth we’re seeing, there would be delays during peak periods, for students and for our member colleges getting applications, said Rob Killion, executive director of Common Application Inc., in an interview with the New York Times. “This will all soon be groaning if we don’t do something now.”

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