THE BLOG
10/24/2013 08:53 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2013

Surviving Hurricane Common Application

Last year it was Hurricane Sandy. This year it is Hurricane Common Application. Both have prompted many colleges to push back some early deadlines, yet thankfully in this case no lives or homes have been lost or irreparably damaged. The cause of this hurricane is the new release of the Common Application, the application system that college applicants use with than 500 colleges use. It should have rolled out its new version in a beta year, but instead launched its new 4.0 version during the full blown 2013-2014 college application season. Making it more challenging is the fact that everyone is going through it for the first time -- students, teachers, counselors, and colleges. Along with a new learning curve, there are content challenges and technical glitches at each level. Thankfully, day-by-day, the Common Application is improving technologically and with its communication to the community. But deadlines are looming, and students, schools, and colleges shouldn't have to suffer. Here are some reactive and proactive solutions. Extended deadlines: Thank you to colleges who are pushing back early deadlines. These colleges include Barnard, Bentley, Boston University, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Lewis & Clark, Northwestern, Pomona, Rice, Syracuse, and University of Vermont. Sadly, there is currently no clearinghouse for those shifts. Students have to search on their own and check college websites and/or the Common Application. In the meantime, keep track on our site and also have your students still try to meet deadlines. They have too much else to do rather than delay if they don't need to. Other application options: The Common Application has been a blessing for so many of us who want a streamlined process to reduce the stress on teachers, counselors, and applicants. When's the last time we had to help a student fill out an envelope? Yet this year, the application has been a challenge for all users, and many colleges are prioritizing their other application options. Princeton, for example, added itself to the Universal Application, where Harvard and Johns Hopkins also reside. This application is much like earlier versions of the Common Application. The essay is the former Common Application essays and adaptable for current essays. We hope this application gets a new lease on life as competition is always welcome. Many other colleges have their own applications that they are encouraging students to use, and they are bombarding students with emails about their priority applications and other means to apply. These other applications are a blessing and a curse. They give students another way to submit their applications but often require their teachers and counselors to submit separate paperwork. If students and families do not trust The Common Application, they should look to these other options. But students do not know how to navigate the throngs of emails. Perhaps, counselors and families could help their students decide whether it is worth using another application system. Patience and Resilience with The Common Application. Many colleges are exclusive to The Common Application, and our students need to use it throughout their application process. Students can make their way through the majority of the application without many challenges. Yet, I spent last week with many first generation students and some components could be easier for them to address. While the side-bars are okay, we highly recommend the Common Application begin a series of short YouTube videos with simple how-to messages because that is what teenagers use and respond the best do. Even short seven second Vines would be awesome. In the mean time, we recommend that counselors and even families complete the application themselves so they can predict where their students might encounter some challenges. Going through the heart attack of clicking Submit, when you only want to Preview, is necessary so you can help calm down a panicking student. Also go through assigning recommenders, filling out the writing supplements, and completing the submission process. Counselors and families can also remind students that
  • they need to finish their education section to complete their waivers for teachers and counselors. Only then can they assign recommenders and/or connect their accounts to Naviance accounts. Without this, their teachers and counselors cannot submit their recommendations;
  • they need to complete their entire Common Application to preview it. They also need to understand that pushing submit does not mean submit until they have had a chance to preview their application. Only then can they see how their activities look together and whether they essays are formatted properly. Sadly they cannot preview the Writing Supplement until they submit and pay for their Common Application to that college;
  • they can format their essays. They need to do a bit more than what the Common Application states. To have any paragraph formatting, they need to double space between paragraphs and not indent. They will not be able to see this actual formatting on the application but only in preview mode. They must either type directly into the application or copy their essays in final draft form into TextEdit or WordPad. From there they copy into the application but make no text changes-only spacing as the application adds empty lines before and after pasted in essays; and
  • if applying early decision, students must invite and assign (two steps) one of their parents under assign recommenders. Make sure they double-check the email address and help walk parents through the agreement. It is very difficult to change the parent if an error occurs.

As the official hurricane season begins to end, we know that simultaneously the majority of college applicants will complete their applications and find their ways to wonderful college experiences. We are optimistic that colleges will be able to read the applications and that the Common Application becomes even more workable for all.