Yale considers new application platform

Tyler Foggatt

November 11, 2014

After the Common Application suffered serious crashes last winter, Yale and other peer institutions are considering a new, alternative application system.

The Common App, which is currently the only application platform used by the University, experienced many technical difficulties last year, causing over 50 schools, including Yale, to extend their deadlines. As a result, Yale, Harvard and a handful of other schools are actively exploring the option of implementing a new application system. While Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said Yale is “a happy member of the Common App,” the University has taken steps to reduce its reliance on the system.

“We put up a request for a proposal and are currently in the process of evaluating vendors for the possibility of creating another application option for students to apply to college,” Quinlan said. “Discussions started about a year ago when the Common Application was having the bulk of its challenges, and we sent out the proposal this summer.”

Colleges who exclusively depended upon the Common App realized their own vulnerability last fall, said Nancy Griesemer, independent educational consultant and DC College admissions writer for the Examiner.

To address this challenge, a small group of colleges, including Yale and Harvard, submitted a request to a group of application system vendors in May 2014. The request proposal outlined the specifications that a new, alternative application system would need to have.

“This committee began to investigate the possibility of having an alternative in the industry that they could control,” Griesemer said. “It’s a relatively selective group of colleges, and they evidently have been meeting quietly to discuss this. They put together the [request proposal and sent it] to the major players in the application industry — ApplyWithUs, Hobsons, Universal College Application, etc.”

After the proposal was submitted, only three vendors were invited to go forward in the process, although it is currently unknown who those vendors are, Griesemer said.

Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Common App Paul Mott said in an email that his organization is not focused on the competition. He added that the Common App seeks to eliminate undue confusion and barriers to a college education.

“If this alternative to the Common Application actually can help increase access — which would reverse a generational trend in the opposite direction — and actually reduce the pointless friction in the college admission process, we look forward to hearing more,” he wrote.

Unlike Yale, Harvard allows students to submit their applications both through the Common App and Universal College Application to avoid vulnerability to the possible failure of one system.

Harvard students interviewed said they used only the Common App to apply and were unaware that Harvard offered the Universal College Application.

But Bev Taylor, founder of Ivy Coach, a New-York based college consulting firm, said that many other schools, including Princeton and Cornell, followed Harvard’s example and joined the Universal College Application after the Common App crashed last fall.

Taylor said these colleges were not originally members of Universal College Application because the Common App made it very expensive for a university to subscribe to two application systems.

However, Griesemer said that at the end of this month, the Common App will announce a new pricing policy that makes it less expensive for a university to receive applications from more than one platform. Consequently, it is the perfect time for Yale and others to establish a new platform, she said.

Still, college students interviewed said that they would not have submitted their applications through any platform besides the Common App.

Jennifer Chiang, a sophomore at Harvard who used the Common App to apply, said that most students would probably not take the time to fill out a separate application unless there was an added benefit.

“I’m not sure how many students would use a new system, since applying to college is already such an arduous process, given supplements, etc.,” said Kristina Lorch, a sophomore at Harvard who used the Common App to apply to schools. “It’s much easier when you can submit applications through one system, even if it does occasionally have technical issues. I guess it depends on how much of an improvement is made in a new application system.”

However, Quinlan said the group of colleges spearheading the new platform hopes to work with both students and guidance counselors in order to develop an excellent product that applicants actually use. He added that the coalition is still trying to find a technology partner and work on testing the new platform. As a result, the implementation of a new system will likely take more than a year, he said.

“We would like something to reflect more of the way that our applicants — high school seniors — are interacting with the internet,” Quinlan said. “Something that’s dynamic, something that’s collaborative, something that has a cloud feel and reflects the way students like to work these days.”

Still, Quinlan said that the University has not yet experienced any issues with the Common App this fall.