Common application users also find a common problem

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The common application, the admission form accepted by more than 400 colleges and universities, was created in part to ease the burden on high school graduates. Applicants no longer have to fill out a dozen different forms to apply to a dozen schools, including the most selective ones in the country.

So it was frustrating for Max Ladow, 17, a senior at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, to discover this fall that he couldn’t keep his answers short within the 150-word allotted on the electronic version of the book. ‘application, even when he was certain he was under the limit.

When would he follow the program’s instructions to perform a “print preview” of his responses? who would show him the actual version an admissions officer would see, as opposed to the raw work in progress on his screen ?? his answers were invariably cut off at the margins, in the middle of a sentence, or even in the middle of a word.

This technical glitch in the common application has upset countless numbers of college applicants, let alone their parents, at an already strained time in their lives.

Considering the stakes, Max said he was left with two puzzles: Why can’t Common Application be better, technologically, given the caliber of institutions involved? And, at the very least, why can’t the nonprofit college association that produces the form fix this particular problem?

“It’s a bit ridiculous,” he said. “I take computer science. I have a vague idea of ​​how this may or may not work. I think it would be such an easy thing for an error message, at least, to pop up.

By the Jan. 1 application deadline at many colleges and universities, it is estimated that 1.9 million versions of the joint application will be submitted for places in next year’s freshman class, an estimated 27% increase in just one year, said Rob Killion, executive director of Joint Demand.

Part of that increase comes from submissions to Columbia and the University of Michigan, the most recent colleges to agree to accept the Common Application, as it is widely known.

Mr Killion said the ‘truncation’ issue, as it is called in Common Application Offices, is not new and has been a fact of the process for over a decade, barely causing a ripple. .

And yet, enough students, parents and counselors complained this fall about the issue the organization has scrambled in recent weeks to include a link to a warning box in the form.

It reads, in part, “It is essential that you preview your common app and check for truncated information. If you preview the common app and find that some of your text is missing, you should try shortening your answer to that it fits in the available space.

The organization’s explanation for such technological quirks ?? some applicants found that the form also truncated parts of parents’ job titles, as well as details about their own extracurricular activities ?? provided little comfort.

As it turns out, applicants don’t have, say, 150 words to discuss their most meaningful extracurricular activities; they have something closer to 1000 characters (Max said he finally figured this out). And because some letters may take up more space than others, one candidate’s 145-word essay may be too long, while another’s 157-word response may be short, Killion said. .

“A capital W takes up 10 times the space of a dot,” he said. “If a student writes 163 characters with lots of W’s, m’s, g’s, and all caps, their 163 characters will take up a lot more space than someone who uses a lot of I’s, commas, periods, and spaces. “

When asked why the problem had not been resolved, Mr. Killion replied, “Believe me, if there is a way to do it, we would. Maybe there is a way out there that we don’t know.

Truncated answers might be fun if the problem weren’t so bad.

Frank Sachs, director of college council at Blake School in Minneapolis, said an anxious parent recently came to his office to lament that his child inadvertently pressed the “submit” button on an admission application. in college without carefully checking how the mother’s title was rendered in the section on parenting work. The app said: “pla director”, instead of “planned giving director”.

In this case, at least one fault may lie with the applicant: an applicant is not authorized by the common application program to push “submit” until he has checked a box indicating: “I have previewed my application and it looks exactly like what I intend to do. . “

Still, Mr Sachs, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the board providing a checkbox is “not a good solution” and that he has noticed that such cuts had added to the stress of some families. at his school this year.

He added: “I don’t remember this having happened in the past.”

Wiley Davis, a senior executive at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Said the most infuriating aspect of the joint app was trying to get her descriptions of her business ?? including his role in the school’s robotics team, as well as the Shotokan karate competition ?? to fit the space allocated to the activities section.

The robotics team, he said, “won the world championship last year, and we won in another category in 2008, so it was difficult to bring it down.”

“The character and space limits,” he said, “meant I had to do a lot of work to get my point across without running around and cutting off information.”

Still, students and parents can rest assured: Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at New York University, said that when he occasionally sees a cut sentence in an application, he immediately knows what happened and does not penalize the applicant.

“In a nutshell, I sympathize with the frustration of the students,” Abbott said. “A truncated essay will not be the end, the gist of an admission decision.”


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