October 16, 2013

Common Application Woes Delay Cornell Admissions Officers From Reading Apps

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Stress levels of high school seniors applying to colleges hit a new high over the weekend when the Common Application website was afflicted with login issues and website malfunctions, impeding students from accessing their applications and setting Cornell admissions back by almost a month.

According to Jason Locke, interim associate vice provost for enrollment, as of Wednesday night, Cornell has not been able to download freshman applications from the Common Application’s website. Locke said, however, that the University’s Early Decision deadline on Nov. 1 will likely not be affected.

“We anticipate that we will be able to download and begin processing applications within the next few days,” Locke said in an email. “Although this is about a month later than we would normally begin downloading applications, it is my sense that the early decision admissions process should not be affected by these delays.”

He added that in the last few months, the glitches with the Common Application website have resulted in more prospective students calling the admissions office than in past years.

“In August and September we experienced double-digit increases in telephone calls to the Undergraduate Admissions Office,” he said. “We attribute the increased telephone traffic to students, parents and guidance counselors having problems with the Common Application.”

The Common Application’s issues arose from a new system, CA4, that the company issued for the 2013-14 application cycle, Locke said. According to remarks from Thyra Briggs, president of the board of directors for the Common Application, the new system — which will help “streamline the application process and features additional tools in the home center” — is intended to accommodate the anticipated growth in applications.

“The CA4 system is an incredible system –– intuitive, flexible and agile,” Briggs said in a Common Application Membership Meeting Sept. 19. “We are exceedingly proud of what we know it can do and how it can help all of us do our work better and improve the application process for students and counselors. There have been many successes since August 1st, and the finished product will be extraordinary.”

Instead of being “intuitive, flexible and agile,” however, the Common Application has been experiencing “significant challenges” with its new system since the application launched in August, Locke said. More than 500 member schools have been affected by the glitches, he added.

“Many aspects of the system simply weren’t thoroughly tested and should not have been launched,” he said.

Locke said these issues included guidance counselors and teachers being unable to submit recommendations online and people encountering complications with the application fee payment system. Briggs noted at the Sept. 19 meeting that the new Common Application system has experienced difficulties.

“For many of you, the launch has gone relatively smoothly with only the bumps and glitches that are expected in the launch of an entirely new system,” she said. “But we also know that some of you have experienced issues that go far beyond what can be expected and, in fact, tolerated.”

On Facebook, the Common Application kept students updated on the status of its website, claiming the issues stemmed from a “spike in activity among recommenders” that affected all users. Other issues, such as problems with the PDF preview function, are being investigated, according to a post on the Common Application’s Facebook page.

Students and others expressed their frustration with the Common Application glitches.

Priscilla Osorio commented on the Common Application Facebook page, saying her recommenders were having difficulty submitting their letters.

“My professors have tried using three different web browsers, and they cannot submit the letter of recommendation,” she wrote. “I have decided to have my professors email the letters to those schools which require ‘[zero]’ letters to be sent, so I may submit my application, but the recommender status says ‘incomplete.’”

Summer Courts wrote on the Common Application Facebook page that she has been unable to log in, despite having the correct login information.

“I’ve been trying to log in for three days and the site will not work. Every time I try it takes me straight back to the homepage. My username and password are correct I have no idea what’s going on,” she wrote in a post. “Please help!!!”

Janene Cashmer noted the impact of the website’s issues on students’ application process.

“How about you address the fact that no colleges have received any of the applications that have been submitted thus far?” she wrote. “These kids get their apps done in a timely manner to alleviate stress, yet now are facing colleges that don’t have them because Common App website is total disaster!”

Locke said that, to combat these issues, Cornell has created an online resource to help students navigate the Common Application.

He also said that it did not affect the Oct. 1 deadline for spring transfer students and that the Early Decision deadline of Nov. 1 will be moved if necessary.

“We are quite hopeful that many of the issues will be resolved before the Early Decision deadline, but we absolutely encourage prospective early decision applicants to start the process well before the deadline,” he said. “This is good advice regardless of the problems with the Common Application.”