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Countdown to College: Common Application chaos

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The Common Application made great fanfare of what was touted as the “new and improved” application. Completing and submitting applications was to be made easier for students, high school counselors and colleges.

Let’s just say it didn’t work out so well. Here is a sampling of some recent headlines regarding the Common Application debacle: “Halloween Tricks Come Early at Common App,” “Common App-oplexy, Redux,” “College application insanity gets worse,” “Mass Panic as Common App Crashes” and “Application Armageddon.”

The Common Application, with more than 500 college members, shut down completely on Oct. 14, the day before what was to be a baby-step in handling deadlines. Georgia Tech and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are two colleges with Early Action deadlines of Oct. 15. Both colleges extended their Early Action deadlines to Oct. 21.

This first deadline should have been a confidence booster for the Common App, which has had a variety of minor to major glitches since it first released the new application on Aug. 1. October 14 was an unwelcome perfect storm. It was a long weekend for many high school students, which meant that lots of students were working on their college applications and trying to submit them.

High school counselors were busy transmitting counselor recommendations and school reports, and two colleges had hard deadlines of Oct. 15. This should have been a great testing ground for Common App to prepare them for the onslaught of applications with Nov. 1 and Jan. 1 deadlines.

The pressure on families has been tremendous, according to Nancy Griesemer, an independent college counselor in Northern Virginia.

“The Common App nightmare has produced enormous amounts of unnecessary anxiety. It is time-consuming, frustrating and complicated. Combine this with everything else going on in a high school senior’s life, and it’s a great recipe for stress,” Griesemer said. “The Common Application software wasn’t ready for prime time, it wasn’t Beta-tested, wasn’t vetted, and it was pushed to market before it was ready.”

One student blogged, “WHY? WHY? WHY?” And another shared, “Had a pulmonary collapse when I heard the Common App was down ...”

Some technical difficulties have been addressed by Common App, but many of the bigger issues of capacity, log-in failures, endless buffering, essay formatting, double payments and an inability to preview applications remain largely unresolved.

Common App customer service cannot be reached by telephone, so a family’s only recourse is to file a ticket and wait for a response. That’s not a very satisfactory arrangement for families already stressed out by the process.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit