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Glitches in Online College Application System Frustrate Maine Schools
10/22/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Applying to college is stressful, even when the applicaton process goes smoothly. This fall, though, the process has been anything but smooth for scores of students across the country applying online, via The Common Application. Computer glitches have led to frozen screens, misplaced data, problems with payments and overall delays getting applications in. Jay Field spoke with some Maine colleges and universities about how the problems are affecting them, with the first round of early decision deadlines coming up.

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More than 500 colleges and universities accept The Common Application. Eight private colleges in Maine and the University of Maine System are among them.

This is the first admissions cycle since The Common Application did away with its paper forms and moved entirely online.

Janet Boucouvalas runs the processing center that handles all applications that come into the UMaine System.  Boucouvalas says the system has received fewer common applications than it normally gets at this time of year. "A lot of that is just the applicants' inability to get in there and complete the common app," she says.

Boucouvalas thinks the timeline to get the fourth online version of The Common Application up and running by Aug. 1 didn't allow for enough quality control, enough testing, to make sure the software was running smoothly. Even when applicants have managed to submit their forms successfully, Boucouvals says data frequently shows up in the wrong place.

"Everyday, we find something new that's wrong. And we have to go back and they have fix it," she says. "And although they're working very hard, it does get very frustrating for the applicants and for the schools."

An e-mail to The Common Application seeking comment for this story was not returned by airtime. But in a story this week in the Washington Post, a Cincinnati-contractor that provides technical support for the new online version expressed regret that some users have had a negative experience. An official with the The Common Application told the newspaper that the company was moving quickly to troubleshoot the problems, while also adding that more than 200,000 users had had no problems submitting applications.

"From Unity College's standpoint, it's been very streamlined. It's been great," says Chris Vigezzi, Unity's associate director of admissions. Vigezzi says this is the college's first year using The Common Application.

Colby College says it hasn't had any problems with the application, nor has Bates, where Leigh Weisenberger is dean of admission and financial aid.

"We're still about three weeks away from our early decision, round one deadline, which is November 15th. But we can see that applications are coming through to us, and we're in good shape, as far as that is concerned," Weisenberger says.

At UMaine, meantime, Janet Boucouvalas says applicants have some other options if they continue to encounter problems. "We're fortunate in that we also have our own homegrown, online application. So if people are having issues, we encourage them to go that direction."

And if that doesn't work, Boucouvalas says they can always go the old-fashioned route and send in a written application.



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