Malfunctioning Common App exasperates seniors


The Common App’s frequent glitches have caused seniors to panic about early action and early decision deadlines.

Ellen Kan

The country was in an uproar last week as high school seniors desperately tried to submit college applications through the Common Application (Common App) system. No matter what they tried, their efforts were hampered by countless technology errors as the clock ticked down.

Students have experienced problems in the past with the Common App, which is a standardized online application that many colleges utilize for undergraduate college admissions. This year, the system was revamped with new software on Aug. 1 in an attempt to correct previous errors.

Unfortunately, new glitches surfaced and were especially upsetting because many occurred just before early action and early decision deadlines. Because over 500 universities around the world are members of the Common Application membership association, countless students were affected.

“The first problem I had was getting the website to generate a PDF of my application the weekend before the deadline,” senior Jennifer Du, who applied to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) through the early action process, said. “The session would time out after one hour of inactivity, but that was because it was taking such a long time to load.”

Other recurring problems included denying users access to their accounts, changing the formatting of essays and preventing teachers from submitting recommendations. As the deadlines drew nearer, many seniors panicked when they were unable to submit their applications.

“I tried all of Monday to log in to the Common App website, but it was down for basically the entire day,” senior Tessa Muss said. “It was extremely frustrating because the deadline for one of my schools was the next day.”

Fortunately, several schools pushed back their deadlines to compensate for the technology setbacks. UNC-Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech both extended their Oct. 15 deadlines to Oct. 21. Emory University and Yale University changed their deadlines to Nov. 4, while a number of schools including Columbia University, Duke University and The Johns Hopkins University postponed their deadlines to Nov. 8.

While the Common App is a convenient way for seniors and colleges to consolidate information, many students have mixed feelings due to its history of malfunctions.

“I think that it is still a good tool to apply to multiple colleges.  However, the multitude of issues has stained my opinion of it,” senior Adam Friedman, who applied to UNC-Chapel Hill, said. “I think in the future, it would be a good idea for the developers of the Common App to test their programs more before rushing to release.”

Several colleges have turned to alternatives in light of the irritating glitches. Princeton University, for example, has adopted the Universal Common Application, a less popular website, in addition to the Common App. Other schools have created their own online forms as well.

Although the postponed deadlines and alternate submission forms have quelled much of the anxiety, students still believe that these problems must be addressed in a timely manner.

“I think that the Common App team really needs to step up and fix the problems,” Muss, who ran into issues while applying early action to Georgia Tech, said. “It is not at all acceptable to have these kinds of problems when so many high school students are relying on the system to get into college.”

One of the biggest concerns will be whether or not these glitches can be fixed by the time the regular decision deadlines roll around.

“Overall the process was way more stressful than it should have been,” Du said. “If the Common App website makers can’t fix these issues when more students start using the website, I can’t imagine what will happen on the big January deadline.”