Common Application Goes Mobile With New Site

New capabilities allow students to work from their smartphones, but should they?

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For prospective students interested in a Common Application member college, the standard application offers a way to cut down on time and legwork in the sometimes stress-laden process of applying to college. And now, thanks to a new mobile site, students and administrators have an even easier way to access their materials—via smartphone.

Announced in late September, the Common Application’s new mobile site streamlines the site for high school seniors and admissions officers at the 456 colleges that currently accept the Common App. The site allows students to use their phones to quickly check the status of their applications and supplemental materials (two thirds of colleges require information beyond the Common Application’s standard materials), as well as their payment status and any outstanding credentials required, such as transcripts and teacher recommendations.

[Experts weigh in on the merits and negatives of the Common Application.] Prospective students could also, ostensibly, apply to college via their phones—though that is not that intended use of mobile capability. 

"You could take your iPhone right now and you could go to IRS.org and fill out your tax return if you wanted to do that on a three-inch screen, but it's just not very handy," notes Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application. "The same thing is true for the Common App. For us, it was the monitoring part...for those students who want to quickly track what they've done [and] remind themselves what they haven't done." 

This will likely be the case for prospective students applying to Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, surmises Deb Stieffel, vice president for enrollment management. Between 85 percent and 90 percent of the school's applicants use the Common Application, she says, and most will continue to fill out the applications on their computers, turning to the platform for status updates and check-ins. For one thing, the Common Application requires an essay of up to 500 words, which she thinks could be tricky for even the sharpest of texters. 

"I'd be really impressed if they were able to get their whole essay error free on a phone," Stieffel says. 

For Scott Rhodes, associate vice president of enrollment at Florida's St. Leo University, the mobile site's inaugural year will be an interesting test of how many—if any—students apply on their cell phones. 

"When you're filling out an application, you want to take time," he says. "It may speed up the process and they may think it's cool, [but] I question the practicality of it." Still, if there's demand in the future, he says his university may one day consider a similar mobile platform to cater to an increasingly technology-driven generation. 

[Discover how technology is shaping classrooms around the country.] 

Aside from potential insight into student demand, the Common Application's new mobile site gives admissions officers the capability to download student forms, payment information, and application statistics on the go, and further evolution is pending. In the summer of 2013, the Common Application plans to debut a new online system, which will aim to meet the growing application volume and may provide an enhanced user interface, Common Application's Killion says. 

The Common App's progress in mobile evolution is hardly shocking, some administrators say, given the demands of today's students. 

"With all of the technology we have now and all of the apps, that's just a way of life," says Megan Greer, associate director of admissions at Meredith College in North Carolina. "That's one thing we're seeing in communicating with our students: They text all the time. They're on the phones like [they're] another appendage." 

Such was part of the impetus for the mobile site, according to Killion. 

"This is the way the world is trending—particularly young folks," he says. "To not acknowledge that people are wanting to interact with our website from their mobile device is to ignore what's happening in the world."