Oct 13, 2013

Princeton University adds UCA as Alternative to Common App

Princeton University

Apparently frustrated with ongoing problems at the Common Application, Princeton University quietly brought on the Universal College Application (UCA) this weekend to provide an alternative to the beleaguered Common App electronic application system and redirect students to a more user-friendly application.

Previously listed as an “exclusive” member of the Common Application, Princeton—along with 516 other member institutions—has endured a series of technical issues ranging from inability to access (or read) submitted applications, missing recommendations and transcripts, and the loud clamor of public distrust of an application product that periodically crashes and refuses to provide strong customer support.

The final blow may have been a letter to Common Application member colleges advising that changes to “configurations” will not be allowed after October 18.

“… any future changes will create more confusion among students and recommenders, and will cause disturbances in data processing that would ultimately have a ripple effect in development as we work to remedy current issues,” according to Kirk Daulerio, the Common Application director of member relations.

This suggests that colleges, which may have yet to see the first application, will be barred from making adjustments to deadlines and requirements after they finally see how the flow of applications and supporting materials has been affected by Common Application technical problems.

In the meantime, other non-exclusive members have begun aggressively touting alternative applications or completely removing all links to the Common Application on their webpages.

“As you may know, The Common Application has had some unusual challenges this year, and many colleges are having difficulty receiving information submitted through The Common Application in a timely manner,” said Wes Waggoner, dean of SMU’s undergraduate admissions, in a letter to prospective applicants.  “If you have not yet applied, you may also use SMU's Online Application to apply for admission.”

The fact that Princeton opted to bolt to the UCA mid-application cycle could be a strong indication of how serious Common App problems have become and a clear signal of dissatisfaction among important members of the organization.

Over the past several years, Princeton has traveled with the University of Virginia and Harvard University for recruitment programs all over the country.  In these presentations, Harvard has made clear its support for the work of the Universal College Application and underscored the need for continued competition in the application industry.

It appears the message is finally getting through that as good (or bad) as the Common Application may have been or will be in the future, competition serves to strengthen the industry as a whole. Colleges that blindly signed on as exclusive users of an untested product did not do themselves or potential applicants a favor.

For the record, of the three traveling partners, the University of Virginia remains steadfastly loyal to the Common Application and its dean of admission currently retains a seat on the Common Application Board of Directors.

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