Common App creates common problems

The fourth version of the Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, was released on Aug. 1, and since then, at least 42 colleges and universities pushed back their early deadlines due to system malfunctions.

Complete application submission became a problem under this year’s version of the Common App, a nonprofit college admission application company that allows students to create one master application that will be submitted to its member colleges for consideration.

Documents wouldn’t load, PDFs wouldn’t attach, students’ entire accounts froze and complete applications wouldn’t submit.

For senior Megan Lynch, many of these issues added extra stress to her application process.

“My University of Michigan application didn’t go through,” Lynch said. “They emailed me saying they couldn’t find my transcripts or my test scores, so I didn’t make early action.”

Senior Sabrina Meo had similar problems in her application process. She wasn’t able to submit her actual application, and sometimes she wasn’t even able to log into the Common App. website.

“I would wake up at 4 a.m. to submit and work on my application,” Meo said. “There were less people on the server, so things didn’t run as slow.”

Since 517 different colleges and universities use the Common App in some form, and 175 of those schools use the Common App exclusively, students around the country, including Meo, were starting to worry.

“The problems I had didn’t affect my deadlines,” Meo said. “Just my stress level.”

According to Scott Anderson, the Senior Director for Policy at the Common Application, the newest version of the Common App was intended to be a more robust system that would effectively guide applicants and schools through the complex application process. But he recognizes this year’s version of the Common App was far from perfect and said he appreciates the way most people reacted to the problems they encountered.

“Since the Aug. 1 launch of the 2013-14 Common Application, nearly 480,000 applicants have used the system to submit college applications,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for the patience exhibited by these applicants, their parents, counselors, and teachers as we worked to support them through the technical challenges they may have faced in the application process.”

Problems with the Common App were not only encountered by students, but by counselors and teachers too. In fact, for counselor Gerry Holmes, the Common App upgrade felt more like a downgrade.

“None of (the Common App) was working,” Holmes said. “There were plenty of upset people with important deadlines to meet. Teachers were emailing me left and right about it. It was just chaos.”

Holmes said she dealt with plenty of students as they faced problems loading documents, submitting documents and viewing recommender-submitted documents.

“The college application process is stressful enough as it is,” Holmes said. “Students don’t need anything added to that.”

English teacher and yearbook adviser Barry Mergler was one of the many teachers who had problems submitting a recommendation. He said a recommendation letter that appeared to be complete and submitted wasn’t received by the University. His problems were eventually solved when he switched browsers.

Mergler, who has used the Common App for years, said he has never had problems before this year.

“Usually things are easy, very straightforward,” Mergler said. “This year, things were rather rocky.”

Former English teacher, Jo Muszkiewicz had problems that surpassed submission difficulties, though. After Muszkiewicz set up her account under the new version of the system and submitted recommendations for several students, she said she could not even log into the site.

“At first I thought it was because I was in Europe when I was trying to submit the recommendations,” Muszkiewicz said. “But when I got home, I still had problems. There were times when I was able to access the site and times when I simply could not sign in.”

So Muszkiewicz called the Common App help desk, and they were able to fix the problem quickly. After that, though, she had more trouble getting help.

Finally, the help desk suggested that Muszkiewicz switch browsers, just as Mergler had.

“Rollouts of new systems always seem to have bugs that need to be ironed out,” Muszkiewicz said. “Sometimes the only way to find the problems is to have people use the system.”

That being said, the Common App still feels responsible for the complications users have, and Anderson said they are working to make sure the problems users encountered this year don’t happen again.

“We want to reinforce the message that we are sorry for all of the frustrations experienced during the rollout of the new system,” Anderson said. “We are fully committed to guiding each applicant and recommender to a successful submission.”