Oct 31, 2013

In Honor of the Season NACAC offers Ghostly Advice

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has decided to interject a little humor in an otherwise trying application season.

Two videos designed to help students and families learn more about college preparation and the admission process have been posted on the NACAC website and the association’s YouTube channel.

And you might want to check them out!

Shot with student actors from a Virginia high school, the first of these three-to-four minute videos focuses on the anxiety students face when considering their admissions options. 

With the help of four very engaging ghosts, “The College Admission Process Can Be Scary,”encourages students and families to face up to their fears:

Your admission essay is too general and lacks personality
Your math SAT score is laughably low
There are only 5 colleges worth going to
And you can't afford them

and make good use of all the various college admissions resources available on the NACAC website.

Going in a slightly different direction, “Financial Aid! The Musical” sets applying for aid to music:

Well it starts with “F”
Kinda rhymes with NAFTA
Option 1, fill out the FAFSA
To qualify for federal loans and grants…
Do your grades reflect you best
A skill to stand above the rest
There are scholarships for lots of different things.

NACAC created the videos to help begin or expand on the conversation about financial aid and the college admission process.

And NACAC wants to remind everyone about the many tools available on their website to help students and parents navigate the transition from high school to college including advice on college preparation, college search, applying to college, paying for college, and succeeding in college.

Even on Halloween, there’s no need to be afraid.

Oct 30, 2013

Some Very Scary and Common Application Mistakes

The Day of the Dead looms Large

As the Common Application continues to sort out its problems, thousands of college-bound high school students are facing the first of a series of early admission deadlines—the Day of the Dead or November 1.

And it’s worth noting that not all Common Application member colleges will accept early applications beyond November 1, including the University of Virginia, Harvard, and Princeton—to  name a few.

In fact, most of the nation’s colleges and universities use other application products and haven’t had to deal with alterations in their admissions schedules.

So if you’re one of many thousands of high school seniors still trying to beat a Day of the Dead deadline, Halloween might really seem a little scary at this point.

But before you start trying to make up for lost time by dashing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly.

Thanks to some insider information from the makers of electronic applications, here is a list of common mistakes made by applicants trying to hurry the process:

1. Not reading instructions. Before starting any application, take the time to read instructions or view instructional videos. Consider printing out any available directions and having them handy as you work through the application.

2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, the internet goes down, or servers are reduced to a crawl. Why chance it?

3. Not entering a valid email address. And you wonder why you haven’t heard from any colleges?

4. Forgetting to disable pop-up blockers. And whose fault is it that you can’t see those parts of the application displaying in pop-up windows?

5. Using the wrong browser. Most online applications require more modern versions of Internet Explorer or other specific browsers which are clearly identified in the instructions. Make sure you’re working with a compatible browser to ensure optimum results.

6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information.

7. Clicking on the wrong item in a drop down menu. It’s amazing how many students say they’re from Canada or Afghanistan, both of which are frequently listed right after the United States as drop-downs for countries of residence.

8. Entering incorrect data including date of birth or social security number. An incorrect date of birth may have several interesting consequences including failure to open an account (if you appear too young) and may require tech support to straighten out. And by the way, an incorrect or missing social security number can affect financial aid.

9.  Using unfamiliar terminology or abbreviations.  Even though space is limited in the “activities” section of your application, avoid the temptation to use acronyms or abbreviations that could be unfamiliar to your reader.

10. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors. Print out your completed application and proofread before clicking the final “submit” button. Make sure nothing important was cut off and that your essay looks the way you want it to look. Note that you will need to download Adobe Acrobat to preview your document.

11.  Overlooking required essays.  The new “smart” technology employed by the Common Application sometimes hides required essays in the Writing Supplement.  To avoid disaster, make sure you answer all member-specific questions before making assumptions about what’s required in the way of essays.  They often unlock writing prompts related to majors, special programs, and scholarships.

12. Failing to provide accurate or complete recommender information.  When submitting electronically, you will be asked to provide email addresses for all recommenders (even if they plan to submit by paper).  Be sure you enter the correct email address for every counselor, teacher, and “other” recommender whom you wish to have in the system. Otherwise there may be a failure to communicate.  (Note that Naviance high schools do things differently and you need to work within the terms of that system)

13. Not submitting all signatures for the Early Decision Agreement. Be aware that the Common Application ED Agreement requires 3 separate signatures and that your counselor cannot submit the form (electronically or by mail) until both the student and parent sign.

14. Trying to submit before the application is complete.  The Common Application has incorporated a system of green checks to ensure that every question in every section of the application is completed. You will not be able to submit until you have earned all your green checks by completing all "required fields."  If they get stuck or fail to appear, try toggling the question by deleting and reentering data.  The Universal College Application labels required fields with red stars.  You will not be able to submit unless all required fields are completed, but there are no green checks to worry about.

15. Neglecting to leave time for payment to clear. The new Common Application requires that you show them the money before the document is cleared for final submission. Under the new system, the processing of payments can take up to 48 hours and the application cannot be signed until payment has cleared. If it takes more than 48 hours, contact the Help Desk immediately. Note that the UCA does not hold any part (including recommendations) of any application for payment.  When you or your recommender submits, the document is immediately transmitted to the college while payment is processed.

16.  Paying twice.  On occasion, the Common Application cycles back to the payment page after credit card information has been provided.  Resist the temptation to pay twice.  In most cases your card will clear and you will be prompted to go to the signature page. This problem is specific to the Common Application.

17.  Opening multiple accounts.  The Common App warns of dire consequences for students who for whatever reason open a series of accounts.  Maybe you want to use a different name or maybe you’ve forgotten a password and don’t want to wait to go through the password retrieval system. It’s not good, and you risk screwing up your applications.

18. Forgetting to sign the document. The completed application will not submit until the document is signed electronically.  If you’re waiting for your credit card to clear, don’t forget to periodically check back.  Once you are cleared, the signature page will appear.  Again, the UCA does not require a wait.

19.  Assuming that the Writing Supplement is sent automatically.  The Common App Writing Supplement is not automatically sent with the rest of the application.  After you have paid, payment is cleared, the application is signed, and the submit button is pushed, you will receive a green check indicating that the Writing Supplement is ready to be sent.  Once again, take the time to printout and preview the supplement.  Just because you had no problems with the main body of the application, doesn’t mean you won’t have issue on the supplement. If it looks good, go ahead and submit.

20. Refusing to ask for help. If you have technical difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask the “Help Desk,” Technical Support,” or use “Contact” links. 

Oct 28, 2013

List Grows of Early Deadline Extensions For Common App Member Colleges

Providence College is extending its Early Action deadline to November 8
As the Common Application calls in a support team from Amazon to help sort out problems with server
overloads and explain why the system isn’t working the way it should, colleges and universities are throwing in the towel for early admission and extending deadlines.

From the college standpoint, it’s a complicated series of problems.  Many have been worried about their continued inability to access applications through online enrollment management systems.

As of this writing, the Common App reports that about half of those colleges using a daily automated process to retrieve files are either testing or waiting to go live with a software fix rolled out just last Thursday.

For those with operating systems, there are still reports of applications and documents showing up as empty files or blank pages.  

At the same time they struggle with glitches in the automated retrieval systems, colleges are also fielding hundreds of calls from anxious applicants, teachers, and school counselors seeking acknowledgement of documents sent weeks ago.

Between problems with the Naviance connection and the inability to access documents through automated processes, some schools simply have no way of telling whether a document has been received. 

It’s stressful for all involved—applicants, recommenders, and colleges.

Adding to the stress, colleges are also really worried about numbers.  No one wants to report a decline in applications received during any phase of admissions.

So to accommodate all of these concerns, many colleges have announced deadline extensions and others are taking a more flexible approach to enforcing their deadlines.

But while procrastinating applicants may heave a sigh of relief, it’s worth mentioning that the wise student will make every effort to get applications sent long before deadlines. Not only is it worth the peace of mind, but you also potentially avoid further traffic jams and service interruptions down the road.

Thanks to the tireless work of Tara Anne Dowling, here is a list of colleges so far that have announced extensions to their early action (EA) and binding early decision (ED) deadlines (be sure to check with individual websites for the most up-to-date information):

Barnard College:  ED extended to November 8
Bentley College:  ED and EA extended to November 15
Boston University:  ED extended to November 15
Brandeis University:  ED1 extended to November 8
Brown University:  will consider individual extension requests
Butler University:  EA extended to November 8
Columbia University:  ED extended to November 8
Cornell University:  ED extended to November 8
Dartmouth College:  ED extended to November 8
Duke University:  ED extended to November 8
Emerson College:  EA extended to November 8
Emory University:  ED1 extended to November 4
Fairfield College:  EA extended to November 15; ED remains November 15
George Washington University:  ED1 extended to November 11
Georgia Tech:  EA extended to October 21
Johns Hopkins:  ED extended to November 8 (also accepts UCA)
Lewis & Clark College:  EA extended to November 8
Marist:  ED extended to November 8
Morehouse College:  EA extended to November 8
Northwestern University:  ED extended to November 8
NYU:  ED1 extended to November 8
Pomona College:  ED extended to November 8
Providence College:  EA extended to November 8
Purdue University:  EA extended to November 8
Rice University:  ED Extended to November 8
SMU:  EA and ED1 extended to November 8; RD and ED2 extended to January 15
Stonehill College:  EA extended to November 8
SUNY Fredonia:  ED extended to November 15
SUNY Geneseo:  ED extended to December 1
Syracuse University:  ED extended to December 1
TCU:  EA and ED extended to November 8
Tufts University:  ED extended to November 8 (also joined the UCA)
University of Chicago:  EA extended to November 8
University of Denver:  EA extended to November 8
UNC Chapel Hill:  EA extended to October 21
University of Miami:  EA and ED extended to November 8
UNC Wilmington:  EA extended to November 11
University of Vermont:  EA extended to November 11
Villanova:  EA extended to November 8
Wellesley College:  ED extended to November 6
William and Mary:  ED extended to November 8
Yale University:  Single choice EA extended to November 4

Oct 26, 2013

Common App finally admits to ‘isolated’ server problems

Hampshire College joined the UCA earlier this week.

In a notice posted on Facebook late last night, officials from the Common Application finally confessed that for some time, the troubled system has suffered from isolated “server” problems.

“The slow performance some of you encountered earlier this evening occurred as we were rolling out corrections to the system,” explained the Common Application on Facebook. “The slowness was isolated to certain servers, which is why some users experienced a problem and others did not.”

This statement supports speculation among colleges and counselors that students in different regions of the country have been experiencing differing levels of difficulty with the system.

“I see first hand every hour all the major problems that still persist with the Common App regarding student logins, .pdf generation and payment,” said Cristiana Quinn, an independent college counselor located in New England, where many complaints have been centered.  “It is true that some students are able to submit apps, especially during morning hours when the system seems to perform better…by 5 p.m. eastern time, the system seems to slow a near halt for generating .pdf’s.”

And as late as yesterday, problems also seemed clustered in the Pacific Northwest.  “Today the Common Application kicked one of my students out for a record of 18 times in 30 minutes,” said Eric Delehoy, an Oregon-based independent counselor and president-elect of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).  “Yesterday, only 3 of 5 students were able to submit their applications because of Common Application issues and errors.”

These complaints support a pattern of issues involving logins, slow uploads, and payments.

So far, the Washington metropolitan area has been largely immune, since the Columbus Day crash, to some of the Common App’s more troublesome quirks associated with traffic overloads. 

This may relate to the fact that the Hobsons “Common Application Group” works out of offices located in Arlington, Virginia.

While not accepting blame for the faulty software, Hobsons is the technology subcontractor largely responsible for its development and appears to be working feverishly to address its failures.

“Hobsons, along with the Common Application technical team and other partners, is addressing the challenges that have occurred,” commented Rachel DiCaro Metscher, communications and public relations director, in an email responding to questions concerning the Common App.  “We have been have been and will continue to work closely with the Common Application to resolve issues and improve the experience for all users.”

In a separate statement yesterday from Scott Anderson, senior director of policy, the Common App wants it  known that things are going well from their perspective.

“…we remain confident in and excited about the potential of the new system,” Anderson reports.  “As of Thursday, it had processed over 350,000 applications, a 28% increase over the prior year…we are pleased with the performance we have seen.”

Note that the Common Application ensured a significant increase in applications this year by signing up Purdue, which received somewhere in the ballpark of 31,000 applications last year, as well as Georgia Tech (14,645 applications last year), Temple University (18,731), University of Cincinnati (17,104), University of Colorado Boulder (20,506), Virginia Commonwealth University (15,750), as well as 26 other new members.

While not all of these colleges are exclusive members of the Common Application, it’s clear that some statistics related to applications submitted through the system need closer examination.

And despite the glowing self-assessment, colleges are growing increasingly impatient with problems on their end of the system, as Washington University in St. Louis is the latest in a series of institutions to bring on the Universal College Application as a reliable back-up.

On the college side, a listserv privately maintained by the Common Application for members has been characterized by one college-based staff person as, “…a never-ending stream of issues that people are encountering [in the processing of applications].”

And while genuinely concerned about applicant stress, colleges fearfully watch their numbers and extend deadlines in response to uncertainties in the system.  

In the meantime, school-based staff continue to experience issues with recommendation and transcript submission, Early Decision forms, FERPA waivers, and a fee waiver system that has yet to be fully implemented—nearly three months after the new application was launched.

In addition, the connection to Naviance, a Hobsons product marketed to high schools partly for use in the transmission of supporting documents to colleges, remains incomplete and unpredictable. 

And each arm of the Hobsons corporate community points to the other when it comes time to assess blame.
“…Naviance accounts are not accurately reflecting form status,” according to Anderson. “This is a known issue on their end that they are working to resolve.”

And instead of temporarily closing down the system in the middle of the night for “maintenance” or repairs, developers anxious to implement fixes before the weekend, intrude on the system during times when high school students may be expected to be working on their applications—like yesterday evening.

All in all, the premature launch of the new Common Application has cost users thousands and thousands of dollars in lost time and resources, none of which has been acknowledged in the way of an apology or recognition of responsibility on the part of Hobsons or the Common App.

And by now, many are wondering why the Common Application Board of Directors approved the decision to go forward on August 1, rather than delay implementation in favor of a more thoroughly tested system in 2014.