Sunday, January 2, 2011

Application form flaw concerns students

York School

A glitch in the standardized online form used by hundreds of colleges has left many high school students and their parents confused and worried about the effect it could have on their applications.

Users of the so-called Common Application have voiced concern over the issue of “truncated information,” a glitch in which the system cuts off an applicant’s responses in mid-sentence. The defect itself has existed in the Common Application for years, but not until recently has it created such a backlash.

At York School in Monterey, at least 10 students have confirmed having issues with the Common App, as it is widely known. Complaints are increasing since more schools have accepted the system, with Columbia and the University of Michigan being the most recent to sign on.

Because of these complaints, the Common App has installed a link to a warning message at the top of the “Activities” and “Writing” sections of the application. The warning states that, despite indications that their written responses fit inside the maximum word count for the section, their responses may inevitably be cut off on the PDF version of the application.

Some of the responsibility for the effect of the glitch on applications may lie with the applicants themselves. The Common App requires users to click a box confirming that they have print-previewed their application before submitting it to colleges.

However, most students “do not want to read over the entire application again once they are finished,” said Carly Armstrong, a senior at York School. “They just want to be done with it.”

Michele Radcliffe, the college counselor at York, has warned her college-bound seniors about the flaw and continues to reinforce the importance of checking and double-checking applications for errors.

She has also implemented methods like replacing words with their corresponding symbols as a way to assure her students that their responses will fit in the PDF version of the application.

Still, many students are declaring that reinforced messages from counselors and clicking a box on the Common Application website are not satisfactory solutions.

Students indicate they need more than 150 words to discuss important school and extracurricular activities that can bolster their college resumes.

However, Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application, recently told The New York Times that if the Common Application team knew how to solve the problem, “we’d do it.”

Such responses have confounded many users who wonder how the Common App could contain a flaw that even its own employees cannot fix.

“The least we can expect is that it will actually function,” said Sarah Tucker, a York senior. Matt Ryan, another York senior, says that with the amount of money being paid to submit each application by the applicants, “one would hope that problems such as these would be more adequately resolved.”

According to published estimates, nearly 2 million Common Applications will be submitted to some 400 colleges and universities for next fall's freshman class.

Monterey County Herald, 1/2/11, Page A1.