Common App Has a Wild Day, and a Competitor Adds a Big Name

The Common Application weathered a tumultuous day on Monday as many high-school seniors were unable to get access to their applications on the eve of several colleges’ early deadlines.

In the latest spate of technical difficulties that have plagued the online application recently, students said they had been repeatedly logged off due to “inactivity,” some after waiting an hour or more for their submissions to go through. Others said they couldn’t even log in to the system to complete their applications. ”Kids have been just frantic,” one college counselor wrote to me in an e-mail. “They can’t get their applications submitted.”

On Monday night Twitter was abuzz with complaints from students. “I REALLY LOVE HOW THE COMMON WEB SITE KEEPS CRASHING,” @the_llamarmy tweeted, “THATS CUTE COMMON APP U DO UR THING ILL WAIT.” @R-Nunn: “Stupid common app I hate your guts.” @worstnight_mere: ”OK COMMON APP PLUS EMAIL ADDRESS NOT WORKING THIS IS THE LEAST SENIOR MOMENT IN MY WHOLE LIFE.” Another student  tweeted that in lieu of writing an essay for the Common Application, she had composed a haiku: “plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz plz.”

Because of the glitches, several colleges announced that they had pushed back their application deadlines. On Monday, for instance, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill extended its early-action deadline—originally October 15—to October 21. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management at DePaul University, tweeted that his institution had “made a blanket commitment  that we will not penalize any applicant based on Common App issues beyond a student’s control.”

On Monday the Common Application’s Web site and social-media accounts broadcast several messages, some with special instructions, to students. “We are aware of the login issues users are experiencing,” one message said. “Taking steps to address the problem as quickly as possible.”

Also on Monday, Joshua J. Reiter, founder of the Universal College Application, confirmed that Princeton University became a member institution of his for-profit company last week. This news was first reported on Sunday by Nancy Griesemer, an independent college counselor who writes a column for the Web site. In short, Princeton, previously an exclusive user of the Common Application, is now offering applicants an alternative avenue for submitting applications. (Harvard University also accepts both applications.)

With just 33 participating colleges, the Universal College Application has only a fraction of the Common Application’s membership (of 517 institutions). Yet Mr. Reiter suspects more colleges soon could sign on. He was “very busy,” he said, at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s conference, in September: “We had a huge amount of college-admissions people stopping by, some who we’ve known, some who we didn’t know, asking us what do we do, how do we do it, and how are we different.”

For one thing, the Universal College Application does not require member colleges to ask applicants for a writing sample, though the colleges are free to make essays mandatory or optional on their supplements. “We’re not the experts in college admissions,” Mr. Reiter said. “Colleges are.”

Late Monday night, admissions officers and college counselors zapped messages of support for students who were trying to apply to colleges via the Common Application. Amid the angry (and, in some cases, expletive-laden) messages zooming through cyberspace, some students apparently found some humor in the saga. “Chocolate cake,” @lauren_goodyear tweeted, “is the only thing stopping me from freaking out over common app’s inability to work.”

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