BUZZ: The Common App’s Woeful Week

This article is cross-posted from, where I currently serve as editor-in-chief.

photo credit: quinn.anya // Flickr, appears in Kicker article.

This week was a tumultuous one for the nonprofit organization, Common App, which allows students to complete a single college application and apply to any number of partner colleges and universities in the organization. According to their site, the Common App serves over 1 million students and school officials annually, provides online First-Year and Transfer applications, and is connected to over 500 public and private colleges and universities in the US and overseas.

The basics:

  • On Monday afternoon, 10/14, the Common App website was either inaccessible or exceedingly slow for most of its users.
  • The website crashed in the days before the first round of Early Action and Early Decision deadlines hit — typically October 15.
  • 2013-14 is the first year that the Common App has completely retired paper applications and moved the process entirely online
  • In addition to an inaccessible website, glitches included mis-formatted essays, payment processing, and lost applications.
  • As of 7:30AM October 15, the site was returned to full functionality.  There are still reports of fixes being implemented, according to their Facebook page.
  • Some colleges have extended their deadlines to November 1, or made arrangements for alternate application pathways or students.

Now, the BUZZ:

Prior to the crash, the New York Times had already published an article citing the problems that the Common App had been battling since the beginning of this college application season, noting:

Colleges around the country have posted notices on their admissions Web sites, warning of potential problems in processing applications….For the nonprofit company…that creates the form, it has been a summer and fall of frantic repair work, cataloged on its Web site, and frequent mea culpas.

NPR spoke with a number of stakeholders in the college admissions process for their article, who had the following to say:

Irena Smith, a college admissions consultant based in the San Francisco area, says the problems are adding more stress for her student clients. “It’s starting to look like application Armageddon,” she says. And an official with the National Association for College Admission Counseling says, “There is a bit of panic in the community.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune spoke to a local college about their troubles:

For schools like St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., which relies entirely on the Common App, the glitches have delayed the first wave of applicants and left admissions staffers “sitting on their hands,” said Jeff McLaughlin, dean of admissions. …“It’s an ongoing roller coaster,” McLaughlin said Wednesday. In September, the admissions office sent a test application to itself to see if it got through. It took a month, he said. But he insists he’s optimistic all will be fixed before St. Olaf hits its first deadline, Nov. 15, for applications for early admission.

Forbes was quick to link the Common App to other nationwide IT problems, asking:

Has the Common App caught the IT flu plaguing Obamacare?

Kicker, a news site whose goal is “to make news digestible, engaging, and empowering” through their reporting format, captures the angst of college-hopefuls bemoaning the failures of the system.  Writer Susannah Griffee began her article with a picture of a Common App protest, and tweets from disgruntled high school seniors, including this one:

Dr. Nancy Berk, writing for the Huffington Post, points the finger back at the students/families in her article, saying:

Not all last minute Common App victims were procrastinators. Senior year is action-packed and students and parents are scrambling to cover all of the bases. Still, the stressful circumstance was the same, and I suspect there were more than a few raised voices across America asking, “Why didn’t I/you do this last week?”

David Marcus, writing for CNN, had this “silver lining” answer for those who are plagued by Common App issues:

There might be an upside to this storm. It’s forcing parents and students to have a conversation about the pressure to get into the “right” college, and even the more basic pressure to get into college…

I’m secretly hoping for more delays with the Common App.

If kids can’t apply to college now, they can’t go next year. And that means they’ll be forced to take a gap year, which likely will be the best preparation for college of which anyone can dream.

From my own personal experiences as an Early Admission applicant, I suspect that students applying for Early Admission to colleges may not have the personality traits and emotional tools to re-evaluate this setback and use this moment to focus on the merits of a gap year.   Let’s just hope that the Common App sorts itself out by the regular admissions cycle deadline—and that high school seniors will have learned the lesson that you might have to pay for your procrastination.