Online Common Application problems lead colleges to push back deadlines

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Problems with the new version of the online Common Application — which is accepted for college admissions by more than 500 colleges and universities — has prompted some schools to push back early decision deadlines, and others are waiting to see when the problems are resolved before deciding whether to do the same thing.

Panicked students and high school admissions counselors as well as college admissions offices have been complaining for weeks that many students have had problems getting onto the Common App site, including staying on the site, entering information, requesting teacher recommendations  and making payments.

For some time, essays that were entered into the Common App writing section showed no paragraph breaks because, according to a recent e-mail from Common App spokesman Rob Killion, “Paragraph breaks weren’t originally supported in our writing text box (Line breaks yes, paragraph breaks no).”  Students and counselors spent hours trying to find ways to get around it, but there was no way to do so until it was fixed.

This note was on the Common App Web site Tuesday morning:

We are aware that some users are experiencing problems with the PDF previews. We are investigating the cause and will report as soon as we have information to share. As frustrating as this problem is for those who encounter it, please know that it is not systemic and does not impact all users.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech are among the schools that have announced that the original Oct. 15 deadlines have been pushed back to Oct. 21 after weeks of troubles with the Common App Web site.  Other schools, such as Princeton University, gave students a different method of applying, such as using the Universal College Application, which is different than the Common App. The Universal College Application is accepted at about three dozen schools, but more may sign on now.

The Common Application, a not-for-profit organization, was developed in 1975 to make it easier to apply to college by reducing the number of separate applications and essays a student would have to complete for different schools. Many schools that accept the Common App still demand additional information, including essays, so applying to college is still never easy, but it has cut down on some of the work.

A new version was introduced this fall, and there have been a host of problems with it. The Common App Web site has maintained a list of some reported problems along with a progress report on resolution, including:

— Fixed. When submitting an application to a school that only requires a Writing Supplement of applicants in certain situations, an applicant for whom it is not required is still instructed that they must complete it before their application will be complete.

— Fixed. If an applicant opens up a section of his/her application, but does not make any edits or changes before moving to the next section, it will clear out the radio buttons and check boxes for the entire page unless it already has a “Green Check” mark indicating completion.

— Fixed. When an applicant reordered Activities in the activities section, some already answered fields were deleted.

— Fixed. Applicants who had chosen an ED decision plan for a member were prevented from adding another college to their My Colleges list that offered an ED plan.

— Fixed. Applicants who selected an ED2 decision plan were not presented with the ability to invite a parent on the Assign Recommenders screen for that college.

— Fixed. Certain overlays (such as the High-School Lookup window) are too large for some monitors and students were unable to access the “Continue” button.

The latest missive from the Georgia Tech admissions office, on its Facebook page, says:

Common Application assured us that all issues have been resolved. Our extended EA deadline is firm @ Oct. 21, so don’t delay in submitting.

But a number of problems are still listed on the Common App Web site as being “In Progress,” including,

— In-Progress: In most instances, after a user invites one teacher to submit Offline, when trying to invite another teacher they are unable to send the invitation.

Here’s how one college admissions counselor Nancy Griesemer  described the problems in this Examiner piece:

It’s hard not to be frustrated by the ongoing software problems experienced by college applicants forced to use the slightly buggy and somewhat unpredictable “new” Common Application.

And it’s annoying to have colleges, students, recommenders, and counselors used as “beta” testers for software that should have been largely ready to go before being introduced to the market.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | October 15, 2013