Modern computer technology has proven itself to be of immense value in everyone’s daily life, in one form or another. Technology is constantly evolving as companies, along with their programmers, strive to be at the forefront of the newest, most innovative technological advances for their related industry. However, there is another evil and dark side to even the most advanced technological product; the moment it crashes. The Common Application, a frontrunner in its industry for decades, experienced crippling malfunctions and crashes that were heard around the world. The very product that had for years simplified and expedited the college application process for high school students, counselors and college admission staff very efficiently now was experiencing technical difficulties and shutdowns that created extreme chaos, anger, and anxiety for all parties involved. This technological “glitch” left most wondering: Is the automated online college application process better than the old fashioned pen and paper or typewriter and whiteout methods?
The Common Application was created in 1975 as an effort to minimize the effort and maximize the quality of the college admission application process for everyone on both sides of the fence. According to Ehrenberg & Liu (2009), the benefits of having one universal application form, accessed from and submitted to one central point would be a huge advancement in creating a simplified and efficient overall college admission process. High school students could save valuable “senior year” time by completing one application that could be submitted to numerous colleges with a click of the mouse button. Counselors, both high school and college, could expedite their application processes and maximize their staff hours by using an automated computer technology product. An instant, automated process not only makes life easier and more efficient for the applicant, but the large amount of instant data delivered to the college admission staff allowed for quicker statistical reporting and comparisons to aid their offices in creating the most promising entering class for the new academic year.
An article penned by Smith (2014; 2013) speaks to the depths of how instant access to statistical applicant information can directly affect future college enrollment. With this valuable statistical information, colleges can instantly tweak their recruiting efforts to pinpoint certain gaps in desired demographics which are needed to round out and complete the next incoming class. College admission counselors can more easily identify deficiencies in the applicant pool and quickly form a plan to correct them and reach their ultimate goals for that applicant cycle.
As the Common Application found success and continued to experience growth to its membership pool of colleges and universities, it became an accepted application format and well respected technological company in the world of education. In the Hoover (2013) article titled “The uncommon rise of the common app; more than 500 colleges have made the same form a cornerstone of the admissions process. Is that a good idea?” speaks to the levels of comfort and acceptance that colleges, high schools, and students had grown accustomed to, when dealing with the submission of the college admission application automated processes. Member institutions were enjoying a marketing side benefit of the Common Application site, by exposing potential students to member college names and identities that they may never have otherwise heard of or been exposed to. When completing and submitting their college common applications, high school student’s browsed for the college names that they wished to submit an application. Along the way, they were exposed to other member college names that may peak and interest and incline the potential applicant to question – what school is that? Where is this school located? What does that school have to offer me? This side benefit had the potential to get students interested enough to pursue more information on unfamiliar colleges and universities, which potentially could result in one more application to add to their incoming applicant pool.
Fleming (2012) points out that with the ease and comfort of the online application technology, the Common Application provided quick and easy access to bring onboard portions of the potential applicant pool that were either classified as “non tech savvy” high school students or those first generation applicants, which were defined as the first in their family to attend college. For these two classes of students, the automated website helped to guide them through the automated process and expose and connect them to other websites that would aid them in vital college application process information. Having connections to these valuable resources provided these potentially less knowledgeable students with information that could help them become the most competitive applicant they can be during the college application process.
The Common Application enjoyed decades of successful online application receipt and supporting materials processing, while making improvements and implementing successful upgrades to the system along the way. In the Hoover (2013) article titled “Common app is experiencing technical difficulties” we discover with one flip of the switch or click of the mouse rather, one technology upgrade to their system could bring the world of automated application processing to a halt and ultimate crash and burn. As the Common Application blossomed and enjoyed much success over the years, many colleges were confident enough in this company’s system to take it one step further and become electronic Common Application submission only schools. Essentially, this meant that these schools stopped printing their own snail mail application materials, and required that all applications be submitted through the Common Application website exclusively. This Plan A worked wonderfully until a system upgrade caused monumental glitches, technical issues, and system crashes. Many schools had no Plan B in place to counter a sudden system glitch right in the height of the college applicant season. This technology upgrade to the online application website sent students, high school counselors and college admissions offices around the world spiraling down into a tornado effect of chaos, anger, and anxiety laden existence. Because of this automated glitch, many colleges and universities were forced to compensate by extended their early deadlines to accommodate the technical difficulties of their chosen online application provider. A system created to help streamline a manual process, was now the evilness in the room, causing the most difficult and frustratingly angry college application season on record.
In an article by Herzog (2013), it is noted that the Common Application has successfully been “online” since 1998. “Several versions have been unveiled since then, with few issues.” Suddenly, when the whole system failed to provide the accustomed and expected product for this high school class of applicants, everyone “panicked”. “Students are nervous, their families are nervous, their counselors are nervous, and the colleges waiting to receive their apps are nervous,” Anselment said. “We’re trying to be a calming voice.” Ken Anselment is a dean of admissions who expressed his school’s horrible experience to this malfunction of automation. This catastrophe not only affected the core college application population, but it spread one step further to the families of the students, counselors and admissions staff. These family members undoubtedly shared in the feelings of utter frustration and helplessness in their various positions of dependence on an automated computer system that was currently out of commission essentially. Dean Anselment noted that his “school is working on a Plan B if the bugs aren’t worked out of the latest version of the Common App – bugs such as portions of the essays being deleted or jumbled, submitted applications or parts of applications not going through, even double charges for the same application.” Many schools tried to fall back on or create a Plan B of allowing the students to mail in their completed applications in order to be able to process them for the early deadlines.
After this horrendous, failed application cycle filled with multiple critical technical difficulties, Hoover (2014) writes of those seeking an alternative solution, in the article titled “Elite Colleges Explore Alternative to Common App.” This group of colleges sought to organize and create its own application alternative to the Common Application product, in hopes that this type of total system meltdown can be avoided in the future. As many schools are Common Application exclusive, this group is looking at ways to combat an all out system failure of their only application portal. They were looking at using this for “the elite” private sector of schools, but are discussing bringing in some public schools too, so as not to look too “elitist”.
Currently, in a world that thrives and literally lives and dies by automated technology, we reach such levels of comfort with the computerized life that we completely feel lost when we experience a black out of sorts, that shuts down our daily functions. The notorious Common Application debacle hopefully taught some very difficult lessons to those in the education field and to everyone affected by this experience. Always have a Plan B, in case your computer technology suddenly ceases to function or exist. Expect the best, but always prepare for the worst.
Ehrenberg, R. G., & Liu, A. Y. H. (2009). The common application: When competitors collaborate. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 41(1), 48-54.
Fleming, N. (2012). Digital Divide Strikes College-Admissions Process. Education Week, 32(13), 14-15.
Herzog, K. (2013, October 17). Common Application problems send panicked students scurrying. Retrieved from http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/common-application-problems-send-panicked-students-scurrying-b99121649z1-228271631.html
Hoover, E. (2013). Common app is experiencing technical difficulties. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 60(8), 23.
Hoover, E. (2014). Elite Colleges Explore Alternative to Common App. Chronicle of Higher Education, 61(9).
Hoover, E. (2013). The uncommon rise of the common app; more than 500 colleges have made the same form a cornerstone of the admissions process. is that a good idea? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 60(12), A18-A22.
Smith, J. (2014; 2013). The effect of college applications on enrollment. The B.E.Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 14(1), 151-188. doi:10.1515/bejeap-2013-0002