C4- The New Common Application’s Difficult Premier

The launch of the new Common Application (CA4), according to CA4’s senior director of policy, Scott Anderson, has proven to be a “learning curve for all.”

At the recent NACAC Conference in Toronto, a panel of Common Application officials faced the music. Scott Anderson wryly noted, “If you read blogs, you would think nothing is working. That’s not the case.” Or is it? If you’re planning to apply early (by November 1st) to private schools using CA4, it might not be a bad idea to start now. The process of getting your data inputted correctly, your recommendations submitted correctly, or your payments for applications processed correctly might prove a bit more challenging this year. The online application’s 2013 debut has, as Scott Anderson implies, been anything but smooth.

August 1st, 2013, when CA4 went live, saw over 1000 applicants from a dozen countries set up new accounts in the first 20 minutes, exceeding the most optimistic predictions. Soon thereafter, the system promptly crashed, allowing only 74 of 517 member colleges to upload their supplements into the CA4 system.

By August 15th, CA4 usage was up substantially from a year ago: 585,000 unique accounts (up 20%), 14,340 applicants (up 22%) had submitted 31,352 applications (up 23%) of which 14,340 had writing supplements, and 8100 had fee waivers (up 43%). Unfortunately, payments were tracked for only 18,800 applications (down 4.5%) CA4 has issues in payment processing, which is being done through a third party; credit card processing can take 24-48 hours.

The main problem areas CA4, subject to change, include the following:

Login Issues: after changing email addresses, many users have had difficulty logging back on the system. As of September 13th this issue was resolved, going forward, but not retroactively. So, if you happened to set up your account prior to September 13th, changed your email address and were unable to login, it’s best to email the Common App Help Desk for assistance.

Green Checks: for whatever reason, the CA4 software developers assumed applicants would fill out the application questions sequentially. Skipping among the questions causes the green checks (indicating a section of the application is complete) to go on regardless of status of that section of the application.  

Unsupported browsers: Some recommenders have had difficulty creating accounts because they were using unsupported browsers. Approved browsers include Safari (5.1 or higher), Chrome, Firefox, and Windows Explorer 9.0: all the specifications can be found on the Common Application site,

Formatting Documents: The best approach to responding to a prompt in CA4 is to do all your formatting and corrections in Word and then pasting it in. Then don’t mess with it.

FERPA: ‘FERPA’ in essence allows applicants to review all information in their educational file (transcripts, but particularly, in respect to the Common Application, recommendations submitted by recommenders within 45 days of a request). On the CA4 there is a box for students to waive their FERPAs. Most recommenders will refuse to write recommendations unless the FERPA is waived; applicants are having a hard time finding the FERPA waiver box (Here are the instructions for finding the FERPA waiver in CA4- https://recsupport.commonapp.org/link/portal/33011/33014/Article/995/Naviance-FERPA-and-other-recommender) Once the FERPA is signed, it cannot be undone.

Any issues that you run into can be reported to the Common Application Help Desk, which ensures response within 10 minutes (average), though stay patient.  

As CA4 launched, the Common Application signed exclusive arrangements with members including Washington University (MO), Rice, and Duke. 331 of the membership, however, are nonexclusive, including Harvard University, Howard, Carleton, Davidson, and Johns Hopkins to name a few. The best way to find alternative ways to apply is to go to the admissions website of the school.

If you are applying to private schools, stay calm, start early, and be ready to work through a few difficulties. Eventually CA4 will run smooth as silk, but getting any software running well, especially with the feature set and the vast numbers of applicants and members as CA4 has, is a huge undertaking. We’re in the midst of it now.