Oct 19, 2013

Common App promises to do better but offers no apology

Tufts extended its deadline and brought on the UCA

In a widely-distributed Statement of Commitment issued yesterday, the Common Application promised to do better after nearly three months of increasingly urgent complaints coming from those most affected by a series of problems plaguing the online college application.

"The last few days have comprised the most difficult period in The Common Application's nearly 40 years of service to the education community,” wrote Aba Blankson, director of communications.

Without reference to management decisions resulting in the early release of an untested application product, the statement focused instead on a series of “core values”—Reliability, Service, and Integrity—and on improved customer communication.

Beginning next week, we will be using our School Officials newsletter list to send daily updates to the counseling community, and we encourage you to subscribe,” said Blankson. “As much as we would like to communicate this same information directly to applicants, messaging 800,000 registered users would create too big a strain on the system, exacerbating the very problems we are trying to solve.”

The statement also suggested that an unnamed third party billing entity and Google Chrome shared blame for the most visible and vexing of the many problems experienced by applicants, recommenders, and colleges.

No apologies were offered, and in a separate statement to the New York Times, Rob Killion, chief executive officer of the Common App claimed in reference to ongoing technology issues, “We’re very close to having them all fixed. Most of them are.”

But response was clearly mixed to Common App claims that the most serious problems involving payments and a faulty connection to Chrome were fully resolved.

“Your attempt to convince people of your reliability and integrity would ring a lot more true if you had not been allowing problems to go on for months with empty promises since the day you went online Aug 1,” said one commenter on Facebook.

In addition to issues affecting application submission, a key connection between Naviance document system (recommendations and transcripts) and the Common Application has been remarkably slow to come on line despite a shared association with Hobsons.  

Much to the relief of schools using Naviance, the required Early Decision document finally became accessible on Thursday—almost three months after the system was supposed to be fully operational.  Fee Waiver forms and Optional Reports are still not available. 

Increasingly concerned about being able to provide timely decisions to applicants, colleges started looking for ways to work around their inability to properly connect with the Common App system, obtain required supporting documents, and read applications online.  

Princeton and Tufts took steps to offer applicants an alternative by joining the Universal College Application, while others emphasized the availability of different application products or simply removed links to the Common Application from their websites.

Other colleges, such as DePaul University in Chicago and Catholic University in Washington DC, have been downloading and printing individual applications (a minimum of seven pages each) and scanning them by hand into their electronic application management systems.

And concern about the system’s ability to handle heavy traffic during peak application periods led a large number of schools to push back early application deadlines.

After both Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech moved their deadlines to October 21, Barnard, Columbia, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, TCU, Duke, Marist, Tufts, Lewis and Clark, and Dartmouth  pushed back early deadlines to Friday, November 8.   

Boston University, Morehouse College, and Bentley moved their first deadlines to November 15, while George Washington University moved its first early decision deadline to November 11.

As of this writing, the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Princeton, Yale, and Harvard are sticking with November 1 early action deadlines while making clear they are willing to work with students experiencing technical problems with application submission.

In the meantime, counselors have been working overtime to provide technical support and training to applicants, teachers, and other recommenders.

“I don't have time to train my teachers. I already had to work with our tech guy for 2 weeks to solve browser issues. Now our supported browser doesn't print preview and my teachers can't log on. What compensation do we get for our troubles,” asked a school counselor in upstate New York .  “I have been hosting kids in the computer lab 2 days a week to help them.” 

And despite whatever management and technical problems still exist within the Common Application, students are advised not to panic, look for alternatives, rely on college websites for up-to-date and accurate information, and focus on getting elements of their applications completed for submission well in advance of deadlines.

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