Wednesday, December 29, 2010
So it was frustrating for Max Ladow, 17, a senior at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, to discover this fall that he could not get his short essay answers to fit in the allotted 150 words on the electronic version of the application, even when he was certain he was under the limit.
When he would follow the program’s instructions to execute a “print preview” of his answers — which would show him the actual version that an admissions officer would see, as opposed to the raw work-in-progress on his screen — his responses were invariably cut off at the margin, in midsentence or even midword.
This technical glitch in the Common Application has vexed an untold number of college applicants, not to mention their parents, at a moment in their lives already freighted with tension.
Considering the stakes, Max said he was left with two head-scratchers: Why can’t the Common Application be better, technologically, given the caliber of the institutions involved? And, at the very least, why can’t the nonprofit association of colleges that produces the form fix this particular problem?
“It’s kind of 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 just such an easy thing for an error message, at least, to pop up.”
By the Jan. 1 application deadline at many colleges and universities, an estimated 1.9 million versions of the Common Application will be submitted for slots in next year’s freshman class, an increase of 27 percent in just one year, said Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application.
Part of that increase is from submissions to Columbia and the University of Michigan, the most recent colleges to agree to accept the Common App, as it is widely known.
Mr. Killion said the issue of “truncation,” as it is known within the Common Application offices, is not new, and had been a reality of the process for more than a decade, causing barely a ripple.
And yet, enough students, parents and counselors complained about the problem this fall that the organization has scrambled in recent weeks to embed a link to a warning box within the form.
It reads, in part, “It is critical that you preview your Common App and check for truncated information. If you preview the Common App and find some of your text is missing, you should attempt to shorten your response to fit within the available space.”
The organization’s explanation for such technological quirks — some applicants have found that the form also cuts off parts of parents’ job titles, as well as details of their own extracurricular activities — has provided little comfort.
As it turns out, applicants do not have, say, 150 words to discuss their most meaningful extracurricular activities; they have something closer to 1,000 characters (Max said he eventually figured this out). And because some letters may take up more space than others, one applicant’s 145-word essay may be too long, while another’s 157-word response may come up short, Mr. Killion said.
“A capital W takes up 10 times the space of a period,” he said. “If a student writes 163 characters that include lots of Ws and m’s and g’s and capital letters, their 163 characters are going to take many more inches of space than someone who uses lots of I’s and commas and periods and spaces.”
Asked why the problem had not been fixed, Mr. Killion said, “Believe me, if there’s a way to do it, we’d do it. Maybe there’s a way out there we don’t know about.”
The truncated answers might be funny if the matter at hand were not so serious.
Frank Sachs, director of college counseling at the Blake School in Minneapolis, said an anxious parent showed up at his office recently to lament that her child had inadvertently pushed the “submit” button on a college application without carefully checking how the mother’s title had been rendered in the section on parents’ jobs. The application read: “director of pla,” instead of “director of planned giving.”
In that case, at least some fault may rest with the applicant: an applicant is not allowed by the Common Application program to push “submit” until checking a box that reads, “I have print previewed my application and it looks exactly as I intend.”
Still, Mr. Sachs, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that the board’s making available a box to check is “not a great solution,” and that he noticed such cutoffs had added to the stress of some families at his school this year.
He added: “I do not recall this happening in years past.”
Wiley Davis, a senior at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Calif., said the most maddening aspect of the Common Application was trying to get his descriptions of his activities — including his role on the school robotics team, as well competing in Shotokan Karate — to fit within the space allotted for the activities section.
The robotics team, he said, “won the world championship last year, and we won in a different category in 2008, so getting that down was difficult.”
“The character and space limits,” he said, “meant that I had to do a great deal of work to get my point across without running over and cutting information.”
Still, students and parents, can take heart: Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at New York University, said that when he occasionally sees a sentence cut off in an application, he knows immediately what has happened, and does not penalize the applicant.
“In a nutshell, I would empathize with students’ frustration,” Mr. Abbott said. “A truncated essay is not going to be the end-all, be-all of an admissions decision.”
Written by Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Written by Lynn O'Shaughnessy for CBS MoneyWatch
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC
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