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College Admissions: Common App’s Meltdown Threatens Early Decision

Monday, October 21, 2013


College applicants nationwide are freaking out with the Common App's ongoing breakdowns--with Early Decision's November 1st deadline on the horizon, what will happen?

When the Common App launched on a new platform August 1, several professionals in the field voiced their concerns that it was “not ready for prime time”. We were told to be patient, and that we were over reacting. However, it was obvious that sufficient alpha and beta testing had not been done. I think it is now fair to say that we under-reacted. October of 2013 has proven to be the worst month in the history of the Common App.

As the first few October 15 college application deadlines in the country approached, the Common App began to disintegrate. Although problems persisted before this time, they would become monumental on Sunday October 13 as users around the world were unable to “print/preview” and then submit apps. Other users reported being charged multiple times for a single application fee. Students filed support tickets and flooded the Facebook page of the Common App when they didn’t get responses or received erroneous information from Tech Support.

By Monday, the system was completely down, with users simply getting an “error detected” message when they tried to log on. Princeton announced they were joining theUniversal App, and colleges around the country began to extend deadlines. The New York TimesForbesUSA Today and NPR all released stories detailing the stressful impact the issues were having on students. The Common App remained silent for the most part, posting a Facebook message every day or two, usually thanking colleges for their support and claiming that the problems were “not systemic”. They blamed the outages on too many teachers flooding the system with recommendations, Google releasing a new version of Chrome, and other factors they felt could not be predicted. On the Common App “Known Issues” page, almost every issue that was acknowledged began with “in rare instances”.

Meanwhile, users from all over the country were enraged and posting problems on the Common App Facebook page as they entered support tickets; the issues hardly seemed “rare”. Finally, by Thursday, the Common App claimed that most problems were fixed, and users breathed a sigh of relief. The leaders of the CA released a lengthy “mea culpa”, citing their values of: reliability, service and integrity. But by Saturday, October 20, the issues would return. Users who tried to work on their apps were kicked out when they attempted to enter information or essays. Again, students and parents flooded the CA Facebook page and Tech Support. Sadly, despite the Common App press release claiming a new day, nothing had changed. The Common App did not mention the weekend problems on their “Known Issues” page, even on Sunday while they persisted. And worse, they did not respond to frustrated users by posting updates on Facebook. Despite promises for a more accountability, it was clear that nothing had changed. The Common App’s quality control, responsiveness to users, and sense of urgency was enormously flawed.

Now, as one of the largest deadlines for Early Action and Early Decision approaches on November 1, students, guidance counselors and colleges are left wondering what will happen. If the system can’t perform in a reliable manner now when there are few deadlines, what will ensue when thousands of users all try to submit tens of thousands of apps at once? No one knows for sure, but what is clear is that the monopoly we have allowed to emerge for submitting applications is not good for students. We need a system that allows for competition among online application providers and multiple avenues for students to submit apps.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic college counseling, SAT prep and athletic recruiting services www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.


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